Although Unai Emery took the Arsenal job at the start of the summer, the real tests have only been in the past month or so. After four Premier League matches, you would have to say that perhaps the jury is still out on the former PSG manager.
Six points from a possible twelve see the club in ninth place as we approach the first international break of the season. On the face of it, that points return could be a lot better, but it does also come with the large caveat that Arsenal had to face both Manchester City and Arsenal in their opening two games of the season.
That was a pair of fixtures that saw the Gunners suffer back to back defeats. The first against defending Premier League champions Manchester City was arguably no real surprise as Pep Guardiola’s men have seemingly picked up where they left off as they eased to an opening weekend win.
It is, however, the defeat to Chelsea that will rankle the most, a mixture of defensive deficiencies and attacking aberrations meant that Maurizio Sarri won the battle of the new managers, while also continuing the Blues’ perfect start to the campaign before a difficult trip to Newcastle the following week.
Looking back on the trip to Stamford Bridge, Arsenal will be asking themselves how they failed to get anything out of the game, as have many pundits. Even Ryan Elliot of Oddschecker believed that Arsenal could and should have scored four or five. At one point it looked as if it was going to be a very long evening in west London, especially with the hosts going 2-0 up early on.
That deficit was eroded before the break, though, as Arsenal restored parity and, were it not for the wayward finishing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they would have had their noses in front with the half-time whistle soon approaching.
It is the second half where new manager Emery perhaps comes in for some criticism. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but perhaps it would have made more sense to undertake a more pragmatic approach once a foothold in the game had been earned.
To get back on an even keel and then see Chelsea snatch a late goal – one that eventually went on to secure all three points – would have left a bitter taste in the mouth for Arsenal fans, both in attendance and watching on TV elsewhere.
Not only that, but it would have ramped the pressure on Emery going into Arsenal’s third game of the season. A game that saw them take on another London outfit. The second crosstown clash in as many weeks saw them play host to West Ham.
And although the club finally got the supposed monkey off their back after earning a 3-1 win over the hapless Hammers, the scoreline does paint a different picture to the actual game itself. It was a game that had West Ham bought their shooting boots, they could have stolen at least a point from.
Again it did highlight the frailty that Arsenal have in defensive, as this was the third league game in a row in which they failed to keep a clean sheet. That’s a run that would then see itself extended to four by the time the most recent game against Cardiff had come to a conclusion.
It is perhaps too easy to focus on the negatives than the positives. It was a game that saw both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexander Lacazette start up front together and work particularly well as an attacking tandem.
However, it is that soft underbelly that saw them exposed by Neil Warnock’s Cardiff, not once but twice. Although they played their get-out-of-jail-free card, thanks to Lacazette’s late winner, on another day they might not be so fortunate.
You get the feeling that those issues in the back four and perhaps even the centre of midfield are going to be the ones that stop the Gunners mounting a serious bid to return to the Champions League next season. Once again, they may have to look at winning the Europa League and earning qualification via the back door.
It’s going to take at least two or three transfer windows for Unai Emery to truly mould this Arsenal side into one that he can truly call his own. There are certainly signs of encouragement after the first few weeks of the season, but we are still a long way from our final destination.