Moving on from Arsene Wenger is the biggest decision that Arsenal have made in the last twenty years, but that choice has been validated by their start to the season, as underlined by their 1-1 draw with Liverpool yesterday.
James Milner opened the scoring but Alexandre Lacazette netted an equaliser late on to ensure a share of the spoils.
But even if the leveller not arrived, it’s clear that the club’s overdue emergence from the Wenger-induced coma is already paying off.
Liverpool’s trademark under Klopp, and a key element to their success to date, has been their relentless pressing of opposition sides. They didn’t implement it in north London on Monday and that’s because they were aware they could be taken apart if they overcommitted.
Under Wenger, teams were so used to a drop-off in performance and a lack of concentration in key moments they could afford to take risks because there would always be a second chance.
Even if Arsenal didn’t perform at their best on Saturday, that they stopped Liverpool from applying their winning formula will earn them more respect from sides at the right end of the table.
Back in 2015, Wenger’s Arsenal put in a performance against Manchester City where it looked as though they’d finally found how to combat their own low expectations when it came to big games.
But there was no progression from that. And ever since, they’ve failed in similar situations. This must’ve been a key consideration when deciding to move on from the Frenchman.
You don’t even need to assess what Emery did against Liverpool tactically – Klopp’s setup spoke more for Arsenal than anything Wenger had done over the last decade.
Bar their opening to the Premier League season, Arsenal’s winning run, where they’ve never led at half-time at any stage, shows their greater mental strength under the new manager. They’re not reproducing the same old late-game collapses.
Arsenal’s squad has improved, but not markedly since Emery has joined. He has benefited from a couple of player getting better, but you can put that down to his coaching.
Wenger’s win record is what many will point to as his legacy, but when big games came thick and fast – those decisive games that showed if they were viable contenders or not – they couldn’t muster a challenge.
That was down to two things: his predictability and the failure to pose differnt problems for opponents.
With fresh blood, and players confident in a new regime willing to change the team’s style of play, they’ve already won more points before a ball a kicked.
For once, teams may be cautious and settle for a point going to the Emirates. Klopp acknowledged it in his post-match, saying that a point against Arsenal was always a good result.
That might be the case now, but it definitely wasn’t this time last year.
For this reason alone, Arsenal are viable title contenders for the first time in far too long.