If the season were a few months older, and Arsenal didn’t have a decade and a half of underachievement to haunt them, this could be dubbed “championship material.”
Make no mistake: the league leaders annihilated Aston Villa here: it was barely a contest for most of the night, but a nasty surprise was never out of the question while they led by only one goal.
When Douglas Luiz swung in one of his corner-kick party pieces moments after coming on as a substitute, 58,000 eyes might have rolled; they’ve seen it all before at a venue that knows false dawns like few others.
This time, though, they opened in awe as Gabriel Martinelli responded almost instantly and gave Mikel Arteta’s team exactly what they deserved.
With the caveat that Arsenal will ultimately be judged on how they deal with such setbacks against better opponents than a woeful Villa, there is a growing sense that this team possesses a tenacity that many of its predecessors lacked.
They came back from a similar poor concession to beat Fulham on Saturday; repeating the trick was, on one level, a reminder that they have rickets in them, but, on the other, evidence that they have learned how to clear their heads.
“That’s the mentality we want to show as a team and the character we want to show, to react immediately,” Arteta said of the winner, which came three minutes after Luiz had pegged Arsenal back and confirmed their best start since 2004. “Conceding goals is part of the game; it’s about the next action.”
Martinelli scored with a superb half-volley at the far post after Bukayo Saka clipped a teasing cross into his path.
The entire sequence demonstrated the disparity between these two teams: Martinelli made ground before finding Takehiro Tomiyasu, who then passed to Saka, but Villa’s defence appeared to believe their job was done once the Brazilian was out of possession.
He was unnoticed when he applied the finish seconds later, leaving Steven Gerrard to rue the squandering of a lifeline.
“If the right player is available and we can do it we will try,” Arteta said of any deadline‑day additions.
In the heat of the moment, though, he could savour the prospects offered by Martinelli’s decider. “When you start to get that belief and create those moments, it’s not only us that believes, the crowd believes,” he said. “When that connection happens, anything is possible.”