Arsenal produced their finest performance of the season so far – and of the Unai Emery era to date – when they overcame their bitter local rivals Tottenham Hotspur by a 4-2 scoreline at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and summer signing Lucas Torreira sealed a memorable victory for the Gunners in front of a passionate home crowd.
Whilst the Gunners certainly deserve plaudits for their committed, battling display – which saw them stretch their unbeaten run to 19 matches in all competitions – this win does not necessarily signify that Arsenal taken a big step forward in their post-Arsene Wenger progression. Yet.
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Even in recent seasons, Arsenal have been capable of producing big performances in big matches:
During the 2014/15 campaign, Arsenal travelled to the Etihad Stadium, and inspired by the unlikely midfield combination of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, prevailed by a 2-0 margin.
In the 2017 FA Cup final, the Gunners defied the odds to deny Chelsea an historic Double season, and lifted the famous trophy themselves for the third time in four years. That they managed it with a makeshift back line featuring an inexperienced Rob Holding, and man of the match Per Mertesacker starting his first game of the season, made it all the more impressive.
Last season, against Spurs at the Emirates, the much-maligned Shkodran Mustafi put in a titanic performance at the back, whilst Mesut Ozil pulled the strings in the Gunners’ 2-0 triumph.
On each of these above occasions, Wenger’s Arsenal rose to the occasion with style. However, it was the rarity of these instances, and the north London side’s inability to overcome their rivals with any degree of consistency, that persistently undermined their ability to challenge at the very top of the table.
Now, though, there are signs of change emerging. In recent weeks, Arsenal have held title-chasing Liverpool to a very creditable and deserved 1-1 draw. Then, of course, they emphatically defeated Spurs. The evidence of a ‘new Arsenal’ coming to the fore is growing.
On Wednesday night, Emery’s side have a huge opportunity to make it truly clear that the club’s greatest flaw in the latter period of Wenger’s reign – an inability to consistently hold their own agains their ‘big six’ rivals – is being eradicated.
They have this chance on Wednesday to go to Old Trafford, to face Jose Mourinho’s ailing Manchester United side, and lay down a marker. An away victory over the Red Devils would mean seven points taken in quick succession in clashes with Liverpool, Spurs and United. That sort of return would be a remarkable achievement for Arsenal and Emery.
The signs of seismic change at the Emirates so far have been encouraging. Asserting dominance over United would be definitive, and an emphatic way to make plain that Arsenal are on their way back to the top.