Saturday’s draw with Liverpool was well-deserved and a measure of how Arsenal have progressed in the relatively short time since the start of the Premier League season.
Though a week can be a lifetime in football, the vast majority of fans accepted that the dynastic change at the club over the summer was going to need a far greater period of time to bed in – perhaps as much as a season.
Anyone who doubted that would have been served a rude awakening in the first few weeks of the campaign, when we were out-manoeuvred by both Manchester City and Chelsea.
However, since those chastening early weeks, the team has shown consistent and marked progression and patience has slowly been rewarded with better, more cohesive displays.
This is not quite the dawn of a new golden age but the way in which the team is adapting and working more cohesively grows more tangible week-after-week.
The draw against Liverpool, a game in which I confess I held out little hope of victory, was an excellent yard stick by which to measure how impactful the hours on the training ground have been.
Arsenal were tenacious, disciplined and, above all, competitive. In those qualities, they were reflective of their coach whose stock continues to rise as both a thinker and a doer. He had a plan for getting around a Liverpool side that has been miserly so far this season, and his tactics were spot on in the first half.
When Liverpool responded with a change in the second period, and Arsenal’s way of playing was no longer as effective, Emery reacted by making a change. That change – Alex Iwobi – proved decisive in getting the Gunners their just reward.
Tests every bit as stern as the visit of Jurgen Klopp’s side – and perhaps greater ones still – await in the weeks ahead and there will almost certainly be disappointment along the way.
If Emery can keep raising the level of his side by a percent or two each week, however, we can look forward to being equally as competitive in the fixtures that await. We have the quality in this squad, all that’s needed is a system that will extract the maximum from it.
Is a top four spot beyond us this season? Perhaps. Our rivals for a berth in the upper echelons are either vastly more established as squads or vastly more expensive, but, so far at least, we can’t be accused of not giving it a bloody good crack.
Stand out performers.
The young defender – for whom we have Arsene Wenger to thank – performed superbly throughout. He was watchful, alert, and excellent in his positioning.
He is still young for a centre back but is demonstrating an awareness and strength of character that is fast transforming him from squad player to first team shoo-in. There are high hopes for the young Englishman and rightly so.
He provides everything we have lacked in the last five years. He is the archetypal midfield terrier very much in the N’Golo Kante mould; small, fast, and ever present across the pitch.
The way in which he forces turnovers in the defensive third is proving invaluable in stopping attackers bearing down on our centre backs, an area of the pitch in which opponents have enjoyed free reign in recent times. An amazing player.
Normally rash, error-prone and lacking sound judgement, the German had one of those games on Saturday that confound Arsenal fans.
He was decisive and first to the ball more often than not. He won duels, snuffed out attacks and put his body on the line when needed. He has always been capable of performances like this, but they are so fleeting that when they happen, people are amazed and irritated in equal measure. If he could every week, he’d be worth £60million. Consistency must be his focus from here.