Arsenal ended an important run of fixtures in fine fashion by dismantling an awful Newcastle side at the Emirates.
After a woeful autumn, Mikel Arteta’s men transformed their fortunes on Boxing Day against Chelsea and haven’t looked back since – collecting another three wins and a draw in the Premier League in that time.
And make no mistake, they needed every one of the points on offer. The only slight disappointment in all they have achieved is that they didn’t come through this mini-run with the full 15 points.
That said, looking at the run of Chelsea, Brighton, West Brom, Crystal Palace and Newcastle objectively, who wouldn’t have snapped your arm off at the offer of 13 points from a possible 15? Only a fool.
If we take into account the Southampton match before Christmas, it’s 14 points from 18 which is also a pretty reasonable return.
From the worrying lows of 16th place in December, the Gunners now find themselves in a much healthier 10th and a mere seven points off the top four – something that seemed inexplicable barely a month ago.
However, the measure of how far we have come as a side starts now. In our next five league games we face Southampton (A), Manchester United (H), Wolves (A), Aston Villa (A), and Leeds (H). Instead of a clutch of relegation contenders, we’re now facing off against teams both around and above us, teams who are unlikely to roll over or offer no threat in the way West Brom and Newcastle did.
The attacking shackles we were able to shake off in the run now behind us will remain firmly in place against teams who are both shrewder and, quite simply, better. This will be a much better barometer of where we are and what we can realistically achieve this season.
We have taken steps in the right direction, though. We were staring into the abyss of mid-table mediocrity not long ago but we have emerged now with a target and a sense of purpose for the rest of this campaign. It’s no longer with irony that we say we are aiming for a European place. How possible that is will become apparent soon.
For now, though, let’s bask in the glow of a quite excellent performance against Newcastle. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice, Thomas Partey exuded quality for all of his 60-odd minutes, the Hale End boys continued to excel, and Andy Carroll was an irrelevance. If that doesn’t make you happy as a fan, nothing will.
It’s the FA Cup next and a likely trip to Southampton (if they get past Shrewsbury tonight). I suspect that will be a chance for Mikel Arteta to rest and rotate for the Premier League clash that follows on Tuesday but we’ll take a closer look at both of those later in the week.