Paired off against both Manchester City and Chelsea in their opening two games, new Arsenal boss Unai Emery insisted that you couldn’t take anything away from their two defeats.
Adamant that he needed time to install his new philosophy, the Gunners have begun to show some very promising signs of improvement.
Now on a nine-match winning streak across all competitions, they sit just two points adrift of the leading pack.
Although we’re still in the elementary stage of his tenure at the Emirates, Arsenal appear to have found the man who can lead the post-Arsene Wenger era.
With the race for Champions League football the toughest it has been in recent memory, how has Emery turned Arsenal’s performances around?
1. Tinkering with the tactics
Over the past 180 minutes of football against Qarabag and Fulham, Emery has altered his formation three times.
Many argued that over the last 24-months of Wenger’s tenure that the Gunners had become far to stale and one dimensional.
As football and it’s formations evolved, the Frenchman remained stubborn on his approach to the game.
Renowned for his methodical preparation, defender Sokratis has lorded Emery’s decision to add new approaches to Arsenal’s playbook.
“It’s very good, because sometimes in matches like this you need to find a new tactic to win or play better. It is good that the manager works on a lot of situations and we learned a lot about what we have to do in games.”
As he showed during his time in Paris, Emery does not allow his sides to settle into one style of play.
He has carried on this trait in North London.
Highlighted by their resolve to score late against Watford, their new boss clearly has a number of plans entering each match.
With Arsenal now drawing six of their games at half-time, Emery’s decision to alter his tactics and make early substitutions have proven a smart one.
Arsenal have won nine consecutive games across all competitions for the first time since March-April 2015:
Clean sheets: 3
Unai Emery making an impact. pic.twitter.com/0Z3WjM2F3P
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 7, 2018
Another big gripe with Wenger towards the end was his belief that playing the ‘Arsenal way’ outweighed the importance of picking up three points.
However, along with altering their tactics, Emery hasn’t been afraid to find a more direct route to goal.
Last season, just over 8% of their passes were long, in contrast to this year where they have nearly 12%.
Looking to utilize the speed they have in the final third, the Gunners look far more lethal on the counter-attack.
2. Individual Performances
A key part of Arsenal’s improvement has come at the heart of their midfield.
Often overrun and out of position last season, one of Emery’s summer signings has made a seismic first impression in North London.
Moving from Sampdoria over the summer, Lucas Torrerira’s immediate impact has not been anything short of colossal.
A scrappy midfielder with a tireless work ethic, the Uruguayan international is almost the blueprint in what Emery is looking for.
Making the most interceptions in Serie A over the last two seasons, Torreira has been a key part in Granit Xhaka’s improvement.
Allowing his midfield partner to go pass crazy, the 22-year-old’s tenacity covers over some of Xhaka’s biggest flaws.
Arsenal without Lucas Torreira on the pitch this season:
9 goals scored
10 goals conceded
Arsenal with Lucas Torreira on the pitch this season:
20 goals scored
3 goals conceded
This is incredible
— AFC (@aloe_vjera) October 7, 2018
One player in particular who has epitomized Arsenal’s turnaround under Emery has been winger Alex Iwobi.
More positive on the ball and putting in a string of impressive performances, the 22-year-old looks a completely different player from last year.
With Emery keen to exploit the space behind the full-backs, as he showed against Fulham, Iwobi appears to be relishing the opportunities the former PSG boss is offering him.
Another man who seems to have found a new lease of life under Emery is forward Alexandre Lacazette.
Missing out on a call up to Didier Deschamps’ World Cup winning France side, the 27-year-old was often criticized last season.
With his arrival at the Emirates overshadowed by the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang six-months later, many thought the pair would be in direct competition for a starting spot.
However, scoring twice against Fulham on the weekend, Emery appears to be getting the best out of the former Lyon man.
Offering the duo the chance to play alongside each other, Lacazette has gone as far to describe his partner as a “brother”.
The pairs joyful attitude sums up the new air of optimism the Spaniard is bringing to Arsenal.
OFFICIAL: Alexandre Lacazette has been named Arsenal’s Player of the Month for September.
His effort against Everton has also won the club’s Goal of the Month award. ☄️ pic.twitter.com/L3XnBNBuiT
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) October 9, 2018
3. Increasing the intensity
As Emery showed with replacing Mesut Ozil after 65 minutes at Stamford Bridge back in August, he will not allow anyone to have a free ride in his team.
While the final days of Wenger’s reign may have seen players constantly have their commitment questioned, Emery will not allow the smallest sign of complacency to slip into his camp.
Speaking last month, full-back Hector Bellerin told Sky Sports that the squad were relishing the grueling training schedule Emery is putting them through.
“We’re working harder than we used to work. We’re doing a lot of work in the gym that obviously we always used to do, but I think it’s turned up a notch. He is a coach that wants us to press, to run around a lot during the games so obviously if we want to be ready to do that in the league we have do it in training.”
Emery’s new relentless high-pressing tactics require his side to be at peak physical condition and the 46-year-old’s high demands are clearly having an impact on Arsenal’s resurge.
Arsenal have now been in the top five each weekend for both sprints made and distance covered.
While Emery’s decision to have an outside gym installed near the training pitches and a ban on sugary drinks seem minor on paper, these small little alterations are undoubtedly having an effect.