You can watch highlights of Arsenal v Liverpool on Match of the Day at 22:30 GMT on Saturday on BBC One and the BBC Sport website.
Every Arsenal fan sees Saturday’s game against Liverpool as a marker – yes, the Gunners have made a great start under Unai Emery, but now we will find out how good they really are.
I am sure the players will be thinking the same thing. I spent some time around them when I went to their training ground to interview midfielder Mesut Ozil last week and there is a real buzz about the club at the moment.
The supporters are obviously excited too, because they like what they see. They have been singing “we’ve got our Arsenal back” and there is definitely a connection again between the fans and the team.
Emery has only been in charge for a matter of weeks but a little bit of expectation has already returned too.
Arsenal’s first two games of the season were defeats by Manchester City and Chelsea when nobody gave them much of a chance, but their form since has rebuilt some of the belief that had gone missing at the end of Arsene Wenger’s reign.
Have they got what it takes to beat Liverpool? My heart says yes, but I am looking forward to finding out.
Hard work takes talent to next level
Arsenal’s 11-game winning run ended with Sunday’s draw at Crystal Palace, but their performances have impressed me as much as their results this season – including their display against the Eagles.
The Gunners did not play very well – again, they had to come back from a goal down and did not really get going until the second half – but it was still another example of what has changed under Emery.
Last season, Arsenal probably would have lost that game. With 11 defeats from 19 league games their away record was very poor anyway, but in the nine games on the road in which they conceded first, they only avoided defeat in two of them.
What is the difference this season? Well, the statistics show the players are covering more distance and making a lot of sprints, and the hard work I saw again at Selhurst Park is definitely a part of the team’s improvement.
I am a big believer that you can have all the talent in the world but to win trophies like the great Arsenal sides of the past you need to back it up with the correct attitude and work ethic, and that is what Emery has instilled in his side.
Like Guardiola, Emery always demands more
Emery has not betrayed any of Arsenal’s traditions with his tactics – they still play attractive, attacking football – but he has already started to put his stamp on the team.
He always demands more and you only have to look at what Pep Guardiola has done at Manchester City to see what success that can bring when you are dealing with talented players.
We had been raving about City striker Sergio Aguero for years because of the number of goals he scored but that was not enough for Pep – he wanted Aguero to run more, press more and offer more to the team than just goals.
Pep was basically saying ‘yes, you are at a good level but you can still do better’ and I see that as being what Emery is telling his players too.
Ozil’s treatment this season is probably the best example of Emery’s approach.
I have no doubt in my mind that Arsenal are a better team with Ozil than without him, and the stats for his first five years at the club back up how important he has been.
But Emery has challenged him, and is trying to get more out of him, by telling him he has got to fight for his place and earn the right to play in the number 10 role.
He has done the same with every player, by creating an environment where they are fighting for their place. For me, that is great man-management.
Emery has taken Ozil out of his comfort zone and been very outspoken about saying he needs to do more for the team, but at the same time he has rewarded him by giving him the captain’s armband, which sends a message about how much he values him.
A different side to Ozil – the will to win
We saw a different side of Ozil when he was replaced with 22 minutes left against Palace, throwing his gloves to the floor and refusing to give his manager a high five.
After his masterclass against Leicester, Ozil did not have the best of games and he was clearly frustrated by that, and not being able to stay on the field to rectify things.
Emery said afterwards he did not have a problem with his reaction and neither did I. As an Arsenal fan, I want to see our players disappointed when they are substituted, and it doesn’t mean there is any conflict with the manager.
We are not used to seeing that kind of passion from Ozil, but it showed how much he cared.
He surprised a lot of people, but he did the same when I interviewed him last week and he spoke about how he is always determined to win – whether it is training or in games – and how he has been like that right through his career.
I felt like he wanted to win in the interview as well, because he came across so well. He wanted to do it in German, because it is easier for him, but I explained to him how good it would be for people to see him talking in English.
He was very open and honest when I asked him questions about his reputation for being lazy and explained what his work ethic is really like.
It is easy to judge people and have a perception of their character without knowing them properly and I think that is part of the problem he has, not that it bothers him.
He knows he divides opinion, and people either like him or they don’t, but he has got used to that.
Ozil does not worry about most of the criticism he gets but, bearing in mind he is now playing for someone as demanding as Emery is, it was particularly interesting to hear him say that he always listens to his coach.
What next? Still room for improvement at the back
Maybe this season under Emery is the time when Ozil will change what people think about him, and it is possible the Arsenal team as a whole can do the same. We have already seen signs they are not the soft touch they once were.
What next? Well, I backed them to finish fourth before the season started and they certainly look capable of making it.
Let’s not get carried away and start talking about them as title contenders on the back of this good start, though, because getting back into the Champions League has to be their aim for this season, then they can build on that.
The grit and determination they have shown so far will definitely help them get there, although there is still room for improvement, especially defensively – only five top-flight teams have conceded more chances this season.
If they give a team like Liverpool the kind of openings they gave to Leicester, for example, then they will be punished – and there will be no second-half comeback to celebrate this weekend.
Alex Scott was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/46044105