The visit of Liverpool to the Emirates Stadium was always earmarked as the game where judgements could be made, looking at how far Unai Emery has moved Arsenal on since Arsene Wenger left the club.
Drawing 1-1 with the Anfield natives and coming out of the game disappointed not to win certainly suggested the Spanish head coach had infused something new to his side, especially after the Gunners could not benefit early on against Manchester City and Chelsea when the Islington club were dealt a horrid opening set of games.
Back-to-back defeats left Arsenal just a goal better off than the three teams settling into the season in the relegation zone, already a long way behind the pair who locked out the top spots.
Jump forward three months and the gap between the Gunners and the undefeated Premier League leaders Manchester City remains at six points, even after Emery oversaw a near-club-record string of consecutive wins, eventually stumped by Crystal Palace in a 2-2 draw.
The ex-Paris Saint Germain manager showed in the 13 unbeaten game run – including 11 consecutive wins – that Arsenal could once again come back fighting when behind and grind out results in trying circumstances.
Over the course of the 2018/19 Premier League season, no team has recouped as many points from losing positions as Arsenal, and they added another notch to that belt on Saturday evening.
As impressive, and important, as thrashing the likes of Vorskla, Qarabag and Fulham has been, Arsenal coming from a goal down to Liverpool to take a point whilst feeling they could have gone on to win is even more outstanding. Being able to keep their head even after going a goal down while on the front foot suggested Emery has instilled a stronger mentality amongst the ranks.
Even the slightest of errors by Bernd Leno, tipping the ball back into the centre of the box as the German goalkeeper attempted to prevent a driven cross from reaching the back post, did not lead to repeat mistakes which was pivotal with half an hour remaining on the clock.
All too often, Gunners fans have seen their side open up after letting one goal slip in a desperate search to get back into the tie, especially against Liverpool. They drew 3-3 at the Emirates last December, lost 4-0 at Anfield that summer and suffered a 5-1 defeat on Merseyside back in 2014 when the hosts had four in the net after 20 minutes.
This mental collapse did not happen last weekend, though. Instead the back four kept their shape and the holding duo of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira continued their solid defensive work. It was arguably Xhaka’s best display in North London since his reported £35million move from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2016, for once bringing all his qualities to the midfield in a calm and controlled way.
Altogether, the side Emery put out to get a result against Liverpool kept to the 47-year-old manager’s game plan to stop one of the most lethal attacking line ups in European football getting the better of them again.
James Milner’s opener proved to be nothing more than an irritation that stopped the hosts from taking all three points when Alexandre Lacazette later produced a moment of magic to bend the ball around Alisson to find the far corner of the net through a crowded six-yard box.
Sure, Virgil van Dijk had chances he could, and probably should, have scored throughout the game, but the visitors only had one more shot overall than Arsenal. The Liverpool centre-back also took the club’s joint-most shots on just three.
In contrast, rather than being one of their side’s key attacking options, Arsenal’s centre-back partnership of Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding showed great ability at the back – which the German certainly missed at Selhurst Park when rashly going to ground and conceding a penalty.
The quick turn around between pain in a point and the visit of Liverpool was not aided by a midweek Carabao Cup clash with Blackpool, either, but the duo showed a clear understanding of each other on Saturday.
Keep up performances like this and Arsenal’s trajectory under Emery will only be to go onwards and upwards towards becoming title challengers again, but do not for a moment think that is a small step. Next up – beat the other top six clubs consistently.