There is plenty to be happy about if you’re an Arsenal fan at the minute, although some Gooners are determined to cling to their misery for as long as possible. Perhaps it’s wrong to blame them, it has been a constant companion for many years now.
For the rest of us, wonderful things are happening.
For a start, Arsenal have won nine games in a row without looking, at any point, like they would turn the shotgun from their foot to their face. Sure, there have been wobbles, but like a Weeble with some superglue, Unai Emery’s halftime talks gets them upright. The team responds like a group of professional footballers who know what they’re doing. It’s remarkable stuff.
It’s not just that Arsenal are winning – although that’s always a bonus – it’s where and how they’re winning, too.
This week we watched Arsenal travel to Azerbaijan then return for a Saturday lunchtime kick-off away from home. Under Arsene Wenger that was a recipe for disaster. Either the kids would have lost in Baku or the seniors wouldn’t have bothered themselves at Fulham. Instead, we got Mesut Ozil playing in the Europa League and Arsenal crushing Fulham once they got them underfoot.
Previously, a forward on the fringes of the team knew that no matter how many he scored in the Europa League or Carabao Cup, Arsene Wenger had his favourites and they’d be back on the bench by the weekend when the league rolled around. Similarly, with defenders, would Rob Holding have started at Craven Cottage on the back of his Qarabag display? Probably not even though he deserved to.
Now, everybody knows that places are giving on form and the needs of whatever system Emery has determined is best for the next opponent. It’s football selection as it’s meant to be. As a result, the players are giving more to get into the first team and then maintaining that level when they get there. Competition for places, who knew it could be so effective?
We all said it would take time for Emery to work his magic. The wounds inflicted on this team have been deep and severe, but the Spaniard’s magic sponge is working wonders with only eight league games gone.
A true indication of how the league will pan out is the 10-game-mark. Next up for Arsenal, after the international break, is Leicester at home and Crystal Palace away. It’s not foolish to expect another two wins from those games which should, at the very least, maintain our top four spot through that milestone. There’s every chance, with United facing Chelsea and Spurs playing City in the next two rounds of games, we could be even further up the table. Is that the sound of power shifting in north London I hear?
If that seems enough to get excited about for one season after the last five years, it’s almost greedy to point out that this is only the beginning. Emery and his team have had one transfer window and a couple of months to work with the players and they’ve used it well to steady things and get back to basics. That won’t be his end goal, however, and there is much to improve to get Arsenal from where we are now to where he, and we as fans, want us to be.
The last few years Under Wenger, there was no sense that anything would change. Now, everything is different. From the fans’ expectations going into games to the way the players are responding on the pitch. There’s something to be said for working as hard in the 90th minute as the 1st, yet nobody seemed to think that was something Arsenal should bother with under Wenger, unless they were losing when the last few minutes were reserved for a frenzied attack on the opposition’s goal because they’d passed it sideways for 89 minutes to no avail.
Hyperbole is never far when your team is winning but if Arsenal fans can’t let themselves get excited after nine wins in nine games with 27 goals scored (3-per-game average) and only eight conceded, then may I suggest you find another sport?
This article was first written for Paddy Power