It’s been a lingering question about Arsenal for a number of years – are they just a collection of idiots, incapable of following basic instructions when they take to the football pitch? On Saturday we got a resounding answer – no!

Arsenal's Spanish head coach Unai Emery gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Cheslea at the Emirates Stadium in London on January 19, 2019. (Photo by Ian KINGTON / IKIMAGES / AFP)
Arsenal’s Spanish head coach Unai Emery gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Cheslea at the Emirates Stadium in London on January 19, 2019. (Photo by Ian KINGTON / IKIMAGES / AFP)

You can’t blame Arsenal fans for wondering what’s up with their team. It’s been a long time since they had any confidence ahead of any match that they wouldn’t do something monumentally stupid, no matter the competition or opposition. Arsenal don’t tend to shoot themselves in the foot as much as they blow their whole leg off.

Arsenal own goals, for example, are a perfect illustration of this. They smack them off each other’s faces before bouncing it off the arse of another and past the keeper. Occasionally, they like to kick the ball into their own face, just to mix it up. In general, this is how Arsenal have defended for half a decade, if not longer, and there seemed no sign of it changing under Unai Emery.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny (C) of Arsenal and Laurent Koscielny react after a defensive mistake leading to the Birmingham City winning goal during the Carling Cup Final between Arsenal and Birmingham City at Wembley Stadium on February 27, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Although Arsenal enjoyed a 22-game unbeaten run this season, there were very real concerns that neither Emery nor the players knew what they were doing as we waited for Chelsea to rock up at Ashburton Grove this weekend.

There seemed to be no plan from the manager or no player in the squad capable of executing it. It is a familiar problem, one Arsene Wenger got us so friendly with during his final few years at the club that we will expect a top table invitation when it finally gets married.

But against Chelsea, as against Spurs, Arsenal did something remarkable. They set out with a clear gameplan and then, and this is the important bit, followed it without doing anything even remotely idiotic.

Praise be to Jebus.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 19: Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal celebrates his team's victory after the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC at Emirates Stadium on January 19, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 19: Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal celebrates his team’s victory after the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC at Emirates Stadium on January 19, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Speaking after the match, Maurizio Sarri accused his players of being ‘very difficult to motivate’. “I’m really angry about the approach that we adopted today,” Sarri said. “It’s an approach we can’t really accept.” These are comments I longed to hear from an Arsenal manager after any one of a hundred shambolic displays were the team were found wanting in all departments, from the heart and desire that are so key to English football to basic footballing intelligence. Instead, Arsenal made a Chelsea manager have to say them.

What a world.

There was also something strangely cathartic watching an Arsenal side outmuscle a Chelsea one, the little wimpy kid finally standing up to the playground bully. If one thing more than any other has changed within this Arsenal team it is they are no longer a bunch of whispy whizzkids. They have steel, they have bite, they have discovered the word ‘shithousery’. Arsenal win fouls, they go over, they get in the ref’s face.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 19:  Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal speaks with Match Referee Anthony Taylor during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC at Emirates Stadium on January 19, 2019 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 19: Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal speaks with Match Referee Anthony Taylor during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC at Emirates Stadium on January 19, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

In short, they played like they cared.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 19:  Antonio Ruediger of Chelsea battles for possession with Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC at Emirates Stadium on January 19, 2019 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 19: Antonio Ruediger of Chelsea battles for possession with Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC at Emirates Stadium on January 19, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Of course, it’s impossible to say they didn’t care before, but it seemed like it. All too often Arsenal turned up, trotted out and then just didn’t really bother to do anything else. You just have to look to last weekend’s game against West Ham for a recent example.

There is, of course, now the concern that Arsenal are a side that only gets up for the visits of top six sides, like Wolves but less Brexity, but after years of being humiliated by the same teams, I’ll take it…especially as the next game is against Manchester United.

This article was first written for Paddy Power

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Writer. Feminist. Dreamer. Gooner. Owner of DailyCannon.com, writing about Arsenal since 2008. Sometimes found in the Guardian, Vice.com & elsewhere talking queer issues, politics & football. If in doubt, assume sarcasm.