Unai Emery has brought the nastiness back to Arsenal and the fans are loving it
For too long the Gunners have been a soft touch, with diminutive midfielders who can be trampled all over.
But “we’ve got our Arsenal back” is the song being sung at the Emirates — and Emery is delighted.
The Arsenal boss said: “I feel proud when the fans sing that they have their Arsenal back but we have to continue with calmness and humility.”
Emery knows it is controlled aggression that will be the key to extending his team’s unbeaten run to 20 matches when they visit Manchester United tomorrow.
But the Spanish manager certainly did not appear to be unduly concerned by the club yesterday being charged with failing to control their players during the 4-2 North London derby victory on Sunday.
Asked whether he was proud of the way his players had stuck up for each other during the first-half brawl with Tottenham, the wily Spaniard avoided a direct answer.
Yet just as the FA charges were being announced, the club’s official Twitter account posted a picture of Sokratis Papastathopoulos towering over the grounded Harry Kane accompanied by a couple of bulging muscle emojis.
The Greek hardman had certainly relished his battle with Spurs’ talismanic striker, declaring after their battle: “Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world — but not today.”
It was a quip which is certain to endear him to the red half of North London, who went to work with a fuzzy head yesterday following their hard-fought victory.
And Sokratis is by no means the only new arrival who is bringing a combative approach to the Emirates.
Stephan Lichtsteiner and Matteo Guendouzi were only warming up as substitutes, yet still managed to be at the heart of Sunday’s bust-up.
Lucas Torreira has already established himself as a cult hero due to the ferocity of his challenges, belying his small frame.
And that fearless approach is beginning to rub off on the rest of the squad, with the likes of Sead Kolasinac, Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka also relishing the opportunity to get physical.
Xhaka will be suspended for tomorrow’s match at Old Trafford after collecting his fifth yellow card of the season on Sunday but Guendouzi will be an equally competitive replacement in midfield.
Emery admitted he had to try and calm his players down at half-time during the victory over Spurs.
He said: “Against Tottenham on Sunday, the talk in the dressing-room at half-time was all about remaining calm and then giving the players some confidence.
“When I was a player, I struggled to cope with the pressure in a lot of games so I understand how some of my team might be feeling in moments like this.
“The best way to break that negative pressure is with confidence, but that is not something you can buy in a supermarket.
“You need to create it every day in the conversations between us and by doing positive things together in training.”
The United game will certainly test Arsenal’s fighting spirit. There was a time during Arsene Wenger’s early years in charge that the Gunners had a ruthless streak of steel running right through them. And it usually came to the fore at the Red Devils.
In September 2003, Wenger and six of his players were charged by the FA and the club were hit with a record fine after the infamous ‘Battle of Old Trafford’.
Their mounting red card count became a constant theme as the likes of Patrick Vieira, Martin Keown, Tony Adams and Emmanuel Petit set out to show they were nobody’s soft touch.
If you wanted to play, they were ready to match their skills against any opponent.
But if you wanted a war, well, they were ready for that too.
Yet that goalless draw was to prove the key moment in Arsenal’s Invincibles season.
Now Gunners fans are hoping Sunday’s ferociously-contested derby will prove to be a similar catalyst for their team. The new-found fighting spirit is also helping Arsenal come from behind to salvage something from games.
No team has won more points from losing positions this season than the Gunners.
Remarkably, they have found themselves behind in eight of their 14 Premier League games, yet have fought back to take 12 points.
Much of the credit for that turnaround is down to Emery’s astute substitutions and tactical changes.
He claimed: “Maybe it’s lucky, because at some of the other teams I coached the criticism of me was that I usually changed very late.
“Now people are saying I change very quickly and I think this is something I learned from Javier Irureta when he was my coach at Real Socieded.
“I remember one day he said to us ‘When I change it is because I want to make a difference’.
“Maybe it will be positive, maybe it will be negative but there has to be a change.
On Sunday I changed two players at half-time, not because they were doing badly but because we needed to push with different players in a different way.
“It all depends on how the match is going.
“But the situation we are living with is the fact that in 14 matches in the Premier League, we have not won one first-half.
“That is the reason I need to change but each match is a big opportunity for us.
“I am very motivated for the challenge of going to Manchester United.
“It is clear Manchester City have a big advantage over us in terms of points, in goals scored and conceded.
“The difference with Liverpool is not so big but it is also there.
“The reality is that we are at the same level as Chelsea and Tottenham but it is all about progress and improving.”
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