Time to take Arsenal seriously again, the Emirates is a changed place
LONDON -- There is no easy way to analyse Arsenal. They are never good or bad, just dazzling or awful. Such have been the extremes of performance that Arsene Wenger's players have produced in recent seasons, it is not difficult to pitch them as sublime or ridiculous, depending on the result.
Consistency is a word rarely used to describe Wenger's team, but Saturday's 2-0 victory against Tottenham in the North London derby highlighted the fact that Arsenal have now discovered some.
This was their 11th successive home Premier League victory -- a record since moving to the Emirates in 2006 -- and it enabled Arsenal to keep Spurs waiting even longer for their first win at the stadium since November 2010.
Mesut Ozil, arguably the most frustrating of Arsenal players, also highlighted his own consistency by creating yet another goal for the club with the free kick for Shkodran Mustafi's headed opener.
Since his debut, in September 2013, no Premier League player has provided as many assists (4) as the Germany midfielder and he has amassed 21 more than any other Arsenal player in that time.
The problem with Arsenal is that any progress and consistency tends to come crashing to a halt at some inopportune moment in every season.
This term, the crisis came early, with the 4-0 hammering at Liverpool in August coming one week after a 1-0 defeat at Stoke. Back then, Arsenal were rudderless, spineless and hopeless, but Wenger has somehow managed to turn it around and the revival has gone largely unnoticed.
After defeating Tottenham, though, their resurgence will no longer be under-appreciated.
Ahead of their trip to Manchester City two weeks ago, the general consensus was that City away and Spurs at home would prove to be Arsenal's reality checks, but they have actually provided signposts to a brighter future.
Arsenal lost 3-1 at City, but their performance was promising and full of fight and spirit. Those same qualities, plus some defensive resolve in the shape of Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny, were on show again against Tottenham and it was why Arsenal were able to over-run Spurs and win with some ease.
That lifeless display at Anfield now seems light years away and that afternoon on Merseyside may prove to be a turning point. For Wenger, at least, the new Arsenal -- the one which defeated Spurs -- is more in keeping with the team he expects to see.
"I think we played with purpose, good concentration," he said. "The desire always to be efficient and with great solidarity from the first to last minute and the quality of our concentration was very high.
"We never had a minute where you could feel we dropped our focus. Overall it was a very intense game. We had a few away games when our performances were good, but when you lose, people always go to definite conclusions without going further into analysis.
"We were not as bad as people said because we have 22 points today."
Off the pitch, the mood has also changed at Arsenal. It was rancorous towards the end of last season and at the start of this one, with Wenger's decision to sign a new two-year contract proving a hugely divisive one among the supporters.
But, perhaps because it was their local rivals in opposition, the cohesion and unity on the pitch was reflected off it too. For the first time in a long time, the Emirates felt like a stadium in which everyone was pulling together in the same direction.
Ozil, so often a target for frustrated supporters because of his perceived lack of effort when things are not going well, was given a standing ovation when he substituted late in the game, which further emphasised the feel-good factor in the ground.
Wenger, however, was reluctant to read too much into the upbeat mood.
"I am here to produce a quality performance for people who come and pay their money and enjoy it and go home happy or unhappy," he said. "That's my job and I don't think I deserve anything.
"I just try to produce what people expect. I have to live sometimes with opinions that are not right and opinions that are a bit exaggerated, but I can live with that without problem. I am 35 years in the job, so I know a little bit and can anticipate what happens."
Wenger has seen it all at the Emirates, so he will know that each game and each week in the Premier League offers different tests and challenges. Yet after so many negatives at the club this year, there is a prospect of Arsenal quietly emerging as Manchester City's closest challengers at the top of the table.
They travel to Burnley next Sunday before facing back-to-back home games against Huddersfield and Manchester United.
If their winning streak at the Emirates ends up being 13 in the league by the time they have encountered United on Dec. 2, perhaps we will have to start taking Arsenal seriously again. And if that proves to be the case, that would be an achievement in itself by Wenger and his players.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_