Dave Kidd: Arsenal have weaknesses but they are a club moving away from chaos towards order

Thirteen matches without defeat sounds like a magnificent achievement for a club adjusting to life without Arsene Wenger, after a benign dictatorship which lasted for 22 years.

That streak of 12 victories and one draw, at Crystal Palace last weekend, certainly speaks of green shoots sprouting up after the civil war over Wenger’s future which dragged on for years.

Yet Arsenal’s victims – West Ham, Cardiff, Newcastle, Vorskla Poltava, Everton, Brentford, Watford, FK Qarabag, Fulham, Leicester, Sporting Lisbon, Blackpool – are a modest bunch.

There have been flashes of brilliance – the second halves against Fulham and Leicester conjured up pure-footbaling moves the like of which Wenger had fantasized about for years.

But, even though winning consistently without playing well speaks of a new-found resilience, very many of those victories were unimpressive, patchy or fortuitous.

So Saturday night’s visit from Liverpool feel like the acid test.

This is the one which will tell us whether Emery’s new model Arsenal are merely effective flat-track bullies or whether they are heading back among the elite.

With Jurgen Klopp’s Anfield project almost three years further down the line than Emery’s salvage operation, Liverpool must start as strong favourites.

And Arsenal’s weakness at left-back, where Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac are both injured, suggests that Mo Salah could be in for a field day.

Yet the Gunners ought to have built up a certain confidence by now.

They are developing a new identity under Emery – still easy on the eye, yet more pragmatic and steely.

Players are no longer indulged as they were by Wenger. Mesut Ozil, who threw a tantrum when being substituted at Palace, is struggling to adjust to a less forgiving regime.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is having to get used to starting out wide, or even wider still, on the bench – from where he has had great impact.

Yet Aubameyang has scored with each of his last six shots in the Premier League – a quite extraordinary feat of marksmanship.

And while the decision to allow Aaron Ramsey to leave on a free next summer is a weird one, it also indicates a cultural change at the Emirates.

This is no longer a club willing to bend over backwards to accommodate players, which had been the case for too long.

Many players are thriving in this new era, though. Individuals are actually showing signs of improvement under Emery, in a way they rarely did during the second half of Wenger’s reign.

Alex Lacazette, Alex Iwobi, Rob Holding and Granit Xhaka have upped their games, while Lucas Torreira – ‘he comes from Uruguay, he’s only five foot high’ – is a quality recruit, anchoring the midfield with a maturity which belies his 22 years of age.

Young prospects who have featured in the Europa League and League Cup, such as Emile Smith Rowe, Matteo Guendouzi and Julio Pleguezuelo, are emerging into a serious working environment in which players knuckle down and learn.

Of course, weak links remain and Shkodran Mustafi is still a pratfall waiting to happen, as he showed when conceding a penalty at Palace.

Emery will need at least a couple more transfer windows before Arsenal can be considered true title contenders, with the defence still a glaring priority.

Liverpool are capable of exploiting these weaknesses, just as Manchester City and Chelsea did back in Emery’s first two matches. But much has changed since those earliest post-Wenger days.

Back then, it felt as though the club could slip into a morass similar to that experienced by Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.

Instead, we have quite the opposite – a club moving away from chaos and towards order.

Those have been little more than baby steps so far, but victory on Saturday night would be a proper rite of passage.


THERE was a refreshingly grown-up approach to the question of whether Leicester City should fulfil tomorrow’s fixture at Cardiff, a week after the death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

Leicester’s players decided for themselves that they wished to play on but had they decided on the opposite, after the horrific helicopter crash at the King Power Stadium last Saturday, then that decision would surely have gained widespread acceptance.

Such tragic situations are no longer about ‘manning up’ and putting on a brave face. They are about talking through feelings and making mature decisions.

From top to bottom, Leicester City’s response to this tragedy is testament to the classy operation they had become under Vichai.

IF Manchester United are awarded a penalty at Bournemouth tomorrow, I hope Paul Pogba dances up to the spot in the manner of Morecambe & Wise performing Bring Me Sunshine.

The Frenchman, whose stuttering run-ups have caused such controversy, seems like a young man determined not to take life too seriously, on or off the pitch.

On such a miserable week for football, that doesn’t seem such a bad approach to take.


WEST HAM seemed to have turned a corner after victories over Everton and Manchester United in September – but the Hammers are now without a win in four matches, with their chief attacking threat, Andriy Yarmolenko out injured for most of the season, and boss Manuel Pellegrini still struggling to convince.

Last season’s home defeat against Burnley brought pitch invasions and serious disorder. Another defeat in the same fixture tomorrow could spark a similar meltdown.

Since West Ham’s unhappy move to the London Stadium, a crisis never seems too far away.


PROMOTED on the back of a 23-match undefeated run, with a hugely-popular manager Slavisa Jokanovic preaching high-class attacking football, Fulham spent more than £100million and cavorted into the Premier League with supreme optimism.

Just ten games in, it turns out they have a defence which is historically bad and a manager who has little idea how to organise it.

If Fulham lose at bottom club Huddersfield on Monday, and Jokanovic is sacked, the brutal nature of Premier League competitiveness will rarely have been more apparent.

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