Few anticipated just how quickly Unai Emery could reinvigorate an Arsenal side that had stagnated under Arsene Wenger.
Disappointing performances against Manchester City and Chelsea in the first two league matches of the season suggested that Arsenal would do well to qualify for Europe this season, but that subsequent run of form has proven that aspirations can be set a little higher.
They may be unlikely to challenge Manchester City this season, but Arsenal fans will be optimistic that they can be contenders in the coming seasons.
Emery has filled the considerable shoes of Wenger in a way that Manchester United managers have struggled to do since the departure of Alex Ferguson.
Rather than making wholesale changes, Emery has tinkered with an existing tactical formula that has produced some exciting football.
The Short Fuse’s tactical analysis identified Emery’s strategy early in the season, with this strategy producing increasingly positive results as players adapt.
It is the less tangible change in mentality that is perhaps Emery’s biggest achievement so far.
Despite still maintaining a tendency to concede cheap goals, Arsenal now have the mental fortitude to bounce back and secure a result.
This is a vital quality for a title-winning side. Arsenal may still be lacking other crucial qualities to become champions, but these signs are encouraging.
Winning with style
The recent win against Leicester is an indication that Arsenal have not only rediscovered an aura of confidence, but they are still capable of playing scintillating football when at their best.
They’ve had to rely on their attacking verve while their defense is still finding its feet under Emery.
Arsenal’s 3-1 triumph over Leicester marked their tenth consecutive win in all competitions, but also the seventh win in which they also conceded a goal.
That run features the concession of goals to Cardiff City, Newcastle United and Vorskla Poltava, games that a side of Arsenal’s caliber should win comfortably.
Their balance of attacking strength and defensive instability has made Arsenal a consistent option in the Both Teams To Score market.
This is reflected in the betting preview from Oddschecker that identified the home game against Leicester as another likely Arsenal win featuring moments of weakness in defense.
That proved to be the case, with the BTTS tip all but winning after a strong Leicester started yielded an own goal from Hector Bellerin.
In customary Arsenal fashion, the Gunners needed that wake-up call to find their best and the goals that they required.
It was their absolute best that they found, with Mesut Ozil dominant in midfield and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dynamic off the bench. The beautifully-constructed moves evoked memories of Arsenal at their pomp under Wenger.
Home games against teams outside of the top six once again feel like bankers for the Gunners, irrespective of long-term concerns over the defense.
Emery has reintroduced the fear factor for visiting sides, with the presence of two top strikers in Lacazette and Aubameyang giving the manager flexibility in his line-ups.
Ramsey heading for exit
Source: Arsenal via Facebook.
The January transfer window will be interesting in providing further insight into Emery’s long-term plans. Having had months to identify weaknesses and witness players’ reactions at crucial moments in a match, Emery will now have a clearer idea of what departments need work.
One department that will definitely be weakened in the summer is central midfield, with the long-running contract saga of Aaron Ramsey now set to resolve in the Welshman’s departure from the Emirates.
Ramsey will not be lacking suitors in the summer, with Metro reporting that Liverpool, Chelsea and Mancheseter United could all be interested.
This is a defining moment for Emery’s Arsenal, with the bold decision to remove the contract offer to the long-serving Ramsey showing an intention to move further away from the Wenger years.
Whether Emery signs Ramsey’s replacement in January remains to be seen, with the Welshman still dedicated to the club for the remainder of the campaign.
Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron is much-coveted by European clubs and could arrive at Arsenal in January, the Paraguayan midfielder having been a consistent provider of goals and assists in MLS.
The Express have further suggested the possible arrival of Porto’s Hector Herrera if Emery chooses to replace Ramsey’s experience with more experience.
The reality is that Emery inherited a squad already blessed with great potential in the final third.
So far, he has been able to bring the best out of many of his stars, although finding a platform to allow Mesut Ozil to consistently deliver remains problematic.
Yet Arsenal fans have far more optimism than in recent seasons. Emery may not yet be ready to challenge for the title, but this year of transition could provide the perfect springboard for future success.