Martin Keown, Rio Ferdinand and Steve McManaman have praised the impact that Unai Emery has made on Arsenal already this season.
The Spaniard took over as head coach in the summer after Arsene Wenger stepped down as manager and has guided the Gunners to a 14-game unbeaten run in response to losing his first two competitive games in charge against Manchester City and Chelsea.
Liverpool’s visit to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday was their third meeting with a top six opponent and the North Londoners bounced back from going behind to secure a point in a spirited draw at home.
Speaking as pundits on BT Sport’s Premier League Tonight programme, the three-man panel of Ferdinand, Keown and McManaman gave credit to Emery for the work he has put in to not only make Arsenal a more difficult team to beat but also get the fans back on side.
“I look back to Arsenal winning the FA Cup against Chelsea two seasons ago and they were like street fighters that day,” said Keown, who played for the Gunners between 1993 and 2004. “It did happen in some of Wenger’s later years but it disappeared.
“This manager from the sidelines looks to me like an angry man who recognises this team has a comfort zone it could drop into at any moment and he’s making sure that does not happen.
“There’s a fight and a determination in the manager and that’s what has been needed for a little while now. Not to take anything away from Arsene Wenger but it just needed that injection of energy.”
For Ferdinand, the pace of change around the Emirates has convinced him that Arsenal are now true contenders for a Champions League spot under Emery, with Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in a real fight to keep the Gunners out of the top four this season.
“First day of the season I’d have disagreed but seeing the improvements under this manager,” he said. “The way he is on the touchline, what he’s instilling in this team is a fight, a belief, a determination and that’s feeding the crowd.
“Coming here is becoming a hard place to play again.”
McManaman was also sceptical of Arsenal early in the season after watching them lose to Chelsea thanks to some sloppy defending for a late Marcos Alonso goal.
He too has been impressed by how quickly Emery has knocked his team into shape.
“Watching them against Chelsea they were very open at times,” said the former Liverpool midfielder. “They looked good going forward but they were open.
“Today, they looked as if they had a proper structure and defensively they looked a lot better. Going forward they’ll score goals, we know that. At the back they’ve really progressed in the couple of months he’s taken over.”
According to Keown, all of this progress can be traced back to Emery’s dedication and attention to detail behind the scenes.
“You can see the body of work that he’s doing on the training pitch,” he said. “And respect to the players they’re picking up the message.
“It’s been a 22 year message from a different manager so to turn this around, his record already is better than Wenger’s in his first 11 matches, and Wenger came here and did very well here from the beginning so you have to give respect to the manager.”
Arsenal’s next tests against top six opponents will come in December as they take on Manchester United and Spurs in the space of four days.
Given the positives so far under Emery who is to say that they cannot go into those games confident of a victory or two.