If success over Burnley proved one thing above all else it’s that Arsenal are more willing to get their hands dirty now than they have been for a generation.
Despite Sean Dyche’s overt attempts to smash the Gunners into submission on Saturday – using the same tactics he employed against both Liverpool and Tottenham – the hosts were having none of it.
In fact, Unai Emery’s side were not only wise to it but indulged in a little of their own sort of tomfoolery in order to overcome what was a cheap and nasty attempt to bully them into submission.
In truth, I though the brand of football we saw from Burnley died when Tony Pulis was finally expelled from the Premier League but it seems, in a desperate attempt to recapture some of last season’s form, Dyche has breathed life back into it.
It is crass, unintelligent, and, frankly, pretty Neanderthal in its objectives. ‘Hit hard and hit long’ is about as pithy as I can make the definition of it and it was every inch that from the visitors yesterday.
Making yourself difficult to beat is one thing, making yourself a bunch of horrible pricks is quite another and it seems Dyche has been thumbing his way through the Stoke manuals of 2005 for some inspiration.
For all that, Arsenal and Emery had done their homework. They knew what was coming and, when it came, they met it. They went down under challenges, complained, riled and aggravated to the point of exasperation for Dyche and his band of thugs. In that, it was objective achieved.
It was far from a good performance from the Gunners but it was a pragmatic one. It was never going to be 90 minutes for the purists, and, in truth, it was pretty grim at times, but the three points at the final whistle make the ends justify the means.
It’s not a style of play we want to adapt with any great frequency, of course, but we did what we had to do to get the points and it’s not often we have said that in years gone by.
Arsene Wenger’s teams were long targeted by the more industrial sides for their supposed physical weakness and, it seems, Dyche was happy to test our mettle this time out, to see if any of that vestigial fragility remained.
We have lacked a really cynical streak about us for as long as I can remember so to see it play out on Saturday was pretty satisfying. It’s not a game I enjoyed watching by any means, but it was demonstration enough that we have something different to our game, we have an adaptability and the players to make that happen.
As we continue to develop and new faces are brought in over the next year or so, we can look forward to a much smarter Arsenal side in matches like this.
If naught else, it shows that steel and style can co-exist in the same side, albeit with due recognition that we can’t do both at 100 per cent at the same time.
It was a promising start to the busy festive period but it will only remain so if we can pick up another win on Boxing Day at Brighton. Come on you Gunners!