When Arsenal put together a complete 90-minute performance, they will be capable of giving almost any side a run for its money.
They are not fit to the vie for the league title just yet, of course, but they are playing some good football and picking up points where they have been dropped in seasons gone by, and that’s progress worth celebrating.
However, as impressive as this side has been at times this season, they have still required intervention in almost every match in order to affect change, be it the half-time break or by reactive substitution.
Simply put, they have yet to convince over the course of an entire game so far this season.
In games against Chelsea, West Ham, and Newcastle – and perhaps even against Cardiff – the Gunners have played in fits and starts.
Fortunately, their quality was enough to see them through tricky times against the latter three of the four aforementioned sides, but the match against Chelsea showed that, against more formidable opposition, disjointed performances will fall short.
It is worth noting that, when they get it right, Unai Emery’s side look cohesive and balanced, in a way they have not done for many a season. When they are not clicking, as was the case for the opening 45 minutes against Newcastle on Saturday, they can be turgid, ponderous, and lacking direction.
In fairness to Emery, he has recognised this flaw in his side on almost every occasion and made the changes that were sorely needed and, ultimately, have earned the team nine points.
Obviously, this side is still learning and still adapting, and every side sometimes needs a little instruction from the sidelines or a half-time break in order to keep the wheels greased.
What would be good to see from Emery’s Gunners is a little of what Arsene Wenger’s sides had far too much of – free thought.
Arsenal can’t rely on the Spaniard’s changes and/or the half-time break to allow them to regroup or find another gear, at some point they are going to have to get it right themselves, with only the merest tweaks required from the boss.
That’s not going to happen overnight, nor over the next six months, but we can’t keep doing as we did against Newcastle in the opening 45 minutes and hope to get away with it. The players need to take hold of the game themselves and apply what they have learned over the full 90 minutes instead of allowing the manager to tell them what they should have been doing.
The second half of the Newcastle match proves just what the team is capable of and, with the right balance struck in terms of playing personnel, the consistency of performance should be next to fall into line.
If Emery wants them to press high and control the space then they should be tuned into doing that as a group from the outset. Likewise if they are told to move the ball forward quickly and create space with their own movement, let’s see that energy throughout.
With another three points in the bag and a third win in succession, this is obviously all a little nit-picky but it is borne out of a desire to see this team avoid the self-immolating mistakes of the later Wenger years.
Emery is a meticulous planner and will surely have a clear idea of what he wants from every member of his squad. When that is communicated clearly and starts to really bed in, it will hopefully result in the level of performance extending beyond the 30-45-minute bursts we are seeing at the moment. God knows, we might even see a clean sheet or two!
What progress we have made has been slow to date but it is starting to bear fruit, a little more with every game. With a run of four home matches to come, here’s hoping that fruit has chance to ripen quickly ahead of a tough winter.