Nothing seems beyond Arsenal at the moment. Top of the Premier League, they are taking tomorrow’s Champions League visit from Borussia Dortmund in a jaunty, carefree stride. Even Arsène Wenger has the blissed-out look of a true believer.
The 4-1 win over Norwich City was a reaffirmation of faith, founded on a Jack Wilshere goal of geometric grace, lacerating speed, and compelling innovation. When Wenger acknowledged “it’s what you dream of, close to perfection” the privilege of one’s presence at the Emirates was reinforced.
Aaron Ramsey was a force of nature after coming on for Mathieu Flamini, whose concussion makes him doubtful for the Dortmund tie. Mesut Özil scored twice and made a mockery of the powerbrokers who deemed him surplus to requirements at Real Madrid.
On such a day, of sumptuous goals, soaring hope and sublime memories, Olivier Giroud settled for a role in the supporting cast. Strikers define themselves by scoring, but in time he will emerge from the shadows cast by stellar reputations, and become the star of the show.
Wenger spent the summer searching for a replacement, but accepts Giroud’s response has been “amazing”. He explained: “If you compare his technical level when he arrived to today, he is highly improved. He enjoys now to combine much more. I think from a player who was just thinking ‘I have to score’, he has become a real team player.
“I was thinking always his second season would be the decisive one. We have seen that many times. To adapt to the kind of game we play takes time. I was not too worried when we didn’t bring in anybody because I thought he has a chance to develop.”
The team which represents the latest manifestation of Wenger’s most cherished principles is good, very good. So good, in fact, that his greatest challenge is to dampen the ardour of his admirers, who have rediscovered their voices and refined their ambitions.
Jürgen Klopp, Dortmund’s manager, has anointed Arsenal as favourites to win the Premier League. Wenger refused to rule out the possibility of Manchester United defending their title, but did suggest that being eight points behind, even at this juncture of the season, “starts to be a little gap”.
He acknowledged the champions “have big players, and big experience” but his squad, which seemed forbiddingly thin at the onset of autumn, is coming together. Though Theo Walcott has suffered a setback in training and will be out for at least another fortnight, the return of Santi Cazorla is timely.
He played nominally on the left of a fluid attacking three behind Giroud, and the understanding with Özil augured well. “I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t work together,” said Wenger. “At the moment, Cazorla has the basic fitness but is short of competition.
“We have a squad that is very, very good number and quality wise. We are not desperate to buy in January now. We will have a really massive squad when our injured players come back in November, the beginning of December.”
The fickleness of football ensures there is no guarantee Norwich manager Chris Hughton will be in a job at that time. His side dominated the middle third of Saturday’s match, but occupy a relegation place.
With chairman Alan Bowkett openly aspiring to a top-10 finish, Hughton, a measured and decent man, endured the indignity of having his job security questioned in the aftermath of an honourable defeat. “That is a horrible question to ask,” he acknowledged, “but I can only concentrate on the team and doing the best job that I can.”Reuse content