Arsenal season rests on how win over Tottenham is built upon
There is nothing quite like a stirring derby day victory to transform the mood around a club. Not only a boost to the present, and an allusion to Arsenal's dominance in the not-too-distant past, a 2-0 win over Tottenham last Saturday also offered a glimpse of a more prosperous future for this team. If only you had the confidence that Arsenal could grasp it.
It is not often that one match acts as a template for the rest of the season, but this was one such occasion: a display of thorough competence from back to front. It was remarkable in its unfussy excellence. For a team which often veers wildly into farce, it was welcome indeed.
Assiduous in defence, dominant in midfield and piercing in attack, this is the version Arsenal want to show of themselves every week. In practice, they remain some way from that. But this was unadulterated progress. Come the Match of the Day highlights programme in the UK, the BBC pundits were even fawning over a montage of Arsenal's collective, controlled pressing. Yes, really.
It is no exaggeration that the remainder of the 2017-18 season will be defined by how often Arsenal can replicate this kind of performance. Such grand displays of competence, against such a good opponent, are rare. One came in the FA Cup final win over Chelsea in May, and this was without question Arsenal's finest outing since then -- discounting, with all the best will in the world, a 5-2 win away at Everton which came in the death throes of Ronald Koeman's time in charge. In fact it was his final convulsion.
The real test, as ever with Arsenal, is making this level of performance stick. It is not as though Wenger is incapable of wringing such displays out of his team. As well as the FA Cup final win over Chelsea, they beat the same opposition 3-0 at home last September; the season before, Manchester United were casually destroyed 3-0 in October. Each display invoked hope that a corner had been turned; each time it had not.
The impulse is the same again this time around, with Arsenal beating their bitter rivals in such convincing style. But Arsenal's familiar pattern of disappointment means such conclusions should be guarded against. The wins and the performances need to keep coming thick and fast if Saturday was to be evidence of anything other than a good day for Arsenal and a very bad one for Spurs. A template is just that: it needs to be used again and again, particularly away from home where such discipline and application is needed to correct a desperately poor record against the biggest teams.
If raised expectations are to be earned, Arsenal will need some of Saturday's more impressive performers to maintain the standards they showed at the weekend.
There is little new in seeing Alexis Sanchez spring to life in a big game, even if he has been woefully below bar this season. Similarly, it is hardly a revelation to see Mesut Ozil exude such class, even if he cannot make it a weekly event. But against Spurs, there was much to admire in the contributions made by two other big-money signings.
Granit Xhaka's claim to a starting role has been much debated of late but he showed the commanding qualities in midfield that he often talks of, but seldom shows. His partnership with Aaron Ramsey has the potential to self-destruct but the Welshman's discipline on Saturday helped bring the best out of his Swiss colleague.
Shkodran Mustafi, a fellow £35m arrival last summer, has caused concern with his apparent inability to stay on his feet in the box but it was a quality which served him well against Spurs as he threw himself into some crucial blocks and tackles. Ozil might have been man of the match but his international team-mate, who headed Arsenal in front, would have been a deserved recipient too.
Mustafi was an unwitting avatar of Arsenal's season in 2016-17: impressive up to Christmas, his form fell apart in the second half of the campaign -- and he missed the redemption of the FA Cup final due to injury. The club seemed content to let him leave last summer but Mustafi is a player worth persisting with. And Arsenal, on the evidence of Saturday at least, are a team worth persisting with too.
Tom is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport