Turning a corner

At this point in the season, it’s probably fair to say Edu, Arteta and the scouts that survived last year’s chop deserve some credit for their talent identification. I’ve already admitted that it was wrong to doubt Ramsdale in particular but I’d just like to double down on that wrongness because without him, I highly doubt Arsenal would have taken 17 points from their last 7 games. Peter Schmeichel billed that save as the best he’d seen in years and his own son was in the opposite sticks.

His presence has been transformative and his active engagement with both the rest of the team and the crowd comes in stark contrast to Bernd Leno’s incandescent blandness. For a long time, blandness wasn’t an issue because the consistent shot-stopping was enough but when teams began to realise they could get at Leno, that Arsenal’s back line looked uncomfortable doing what they were asked, his sphere of influence irreparably shrank. Ramsdale’s control of his area leaves no doubt who’s running the show and no chance to second-guess his distribution because he has such variety in his locker.

On this occasion, relying so much on Ramsdale’s heroics was enough to get over the line but allowing for such sustained pressure on a regular basis isn’t going to do the collective blood pressure much good. There’s a flip side, because Arsenal are actually a very good side when they score first; since September last year, Arsenal have won 20 out of 24 games when doing so, losing 2 and drawing 2 others. Jose Mourinho early successes with Chelsea were underpinned by a feeling of hopelessness if they went ahead, often content protecting a 1-0 lead. Over time, it’s something that can begin to demoralise opposition and provided Arsenal continue shutting teams out, it isn’t necessarily such a bad thing to fall onto the back foot for periods. While no member of the defense is a finished article, the fact that they’re already performing with such cohesion and competence points to a promising ceiling.

The early damage was once again enough and even though teams are now abundantly aware of Arsenal’s fast starts, few teams have been able to match the intensity. Gabriel’s leap brought another goal from a set piece (courtesy of dear old Jamie Vardy’s assist) and it’s probably fair to say at this point that the new coach is an improvement.

The second was the type of goal that I would most associate with Arteta’s brand of football; overloading the box on the transition and finding space to take advantage of loose balls. For Smith Rowe, it’s more end product and while some of his final third play needs work, choosing the wrong option or occasion or failing in his weight of pass, he’s continuing to make a difference. With less of the creative burden on his shoulders thanks to Lacazette’s tireless work, he’s enjoying the kind of freedom the position needs to be most effective.

By and large, it was another performance where no player stood out for the wrong reasons. There’s edges to be smoothed and ceilings that aren’t being reached but Arsenal are continuing to rack up points with results that befit the performances. The edges are the small things that add up, and with them, Arsenal would come away with more definitive results; Aubameyang’s runs and intelligence off the ball are too often going to waste, Saka’s shooting boots have been tampered with (although he was still heavily involved in both goals) and there are sloppy fouls being given away in dangerous areas. There’s also little in the way of feeling hard done by because decisions haven’t gone Arsenal’s way, even if Jonny Evans absolutely should have been sent off just as James McArthur absolutely should have been sent off. If anything, it’s nice not having to lose our minds over PGMOL’s incompetency for a change.

Leicester are no chumps and go to away from home and win with a clean sheet is another statement victory. In the last 5 weeks, Spurs have been dispatched with ease, last season’s mauling at home to Villa was well and truly put to bed and yesterday’s performance is another instance of the gap being closed. While the table may look promising, perhaps even exceeding expectations, the fact that Arsenal are showing a level of competitiveness with teams they’re likely to be fighting with for European spots at the end of the season is promising. This is with an out-of-form Bukayo Saka and many new signings that aren’t even half way through their first season in the Premier League.

Not a bad turnaround all things considered – now the trick is to do it on a weekly basis.

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