What a difference a year makes for Arsène Wenger and his happy Gunners

Arsenal 6 Southampton 1

A year ago this week Arsenal embarked on their Champions League campaign in a state of minor crisis.

A narrow win over Swansea had barely blurred the memory of a nightmare start to the season which produced one point from the first three matches, culminating in the 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford. Two players had been sent off, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri had deserted at the 11th hour, and Arsène Wenger was trying to integrate a quartet of deadline acquisitions signed with the haste of a trolley dash. With both Manchester clubs already eight points ahead, the title was gone with the season barely begun.

Respectability, and a Champions League place, were rescued largely off the back of Robin van Persie's 30 goals but, although the Dutchman has since joined the talent exodus, Arsenal are far happier now than 12 months ago. The evisceration of Southampton on Saturday leaves them just two points off leaders Chelsea and in improving form.

"Last year we had a very bad start and were out of the title race in September; that was very difficult mentally," said Wenger. "This year we have the luck to have started better. We look like a real team who enjoy playing together. The play now is maybe a bit more diversified. Van Persie was a team player, but he scored 30 goals and when you score 30 goals everybody gives you the ball. We will know after 10 games if we can challenge for the title; I think we have a chance but let's see how we deal with the big games."

The first of those is on Sunday, when Arsenal travel to the defending champions for a contest that will be far more demanding than pointless Southampton offered. "It will provide a test," added Wenger. "What is at stake is to maintain the level of performance ."

This year's start owes much to Wenger completing his transfer dealings in good time, with Lukas Podolski signed early in the summer and Santi Cazorla before the season began. The pair again shone, with Podolski's directness and Cazorla's cunning tearing Saints' shaky defence apart.

In the first half two own goals bookended a smart free-kick by Podolski and a Gervinho strike that justified Wenger's decision to try him at centre-forward. The Ivorian added a tap-in in the second period before Theo Walcott completed the rout. The only disappointments for Wenger were Olivier Giroud's continued failure to get off the mark – the ball just wouldn't fall to him during his 15 minutes on the pitch – and the error by Wojciech Szczesny which allowed Daniel Fox a consolation. Not that he will have to surrender his place, despite Vito Mannone keeping clean sheets when deputising.

"Szczesny is No 1, unless I change my mind," said Wenger. "You cannot change the keeper every time he makes a mistake because in the end you have three bad keepers. It is a special position where confidence is needed."

Southampton have more serious problems between the sticks. Kelvin Davis, like his central defenders, is struggling at this level but the alternative is rookie Paulo Gazzaniga, whose only experience is 20 League Two matches for Gillingham last year.

Not that this should rule him out. Southampton's best player was 17-year-old James Ward-Prowse, who was playing his fourth match. Here, as against Manchester City and Manchester United, he did not look out of place. Even as the goals rained in he kept demanding the ball and looked to use it wisely. Saints may now be Premier League but it cannot be long before he follows Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out of the club, and maybe to Arsenal.

Montpellier go down again

Arsenal's Champions League hopes received a further boost after tomorrow's opponents, the French champions Montpellier, continued their poor start with a 3-1 defeat at newcomers Reims on Saturday. Diego put the seal on a fine move to put the hosts ahead shortly before half-time, only for Montpellier to level through Rémy Cabella early in the second. Christopher Glombard and substitute Gaaetan Courtet secured the points to leave Montpellier in the bottom five in Ligue 1.

James Mariner

Match facts

Man of match Gervinho.

Ref K Friend (Leics).

Att 60,097.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition