In the end, the contrast between both managers was as marked as the eventual scoreline. Nigel Adkins stood, toes tickling the touchline for much the game, his voice made hoarse thanks to bellowed instructions that had little impact upon the unfolding catastrophe in front of him. "They were ruthless, weren't they?" he intoned afterwards, with an air of disbelief.
Arsene Wenger meanwhile, relaxed and enjoyed himself as his charges ripped Southampton to shreds at the Emirates on Saturday, securing an electric 6-1 win with an equally luninous performance.
Wenger did actually let his frustration show mid-way through the second half with the score at 4-1. Ever the perfectionist; his team responded with two late goals to appease their overlord, and soon after he was smiling again.
As well he might cut a jovial figure – something not often said in his 16 years at Arsenal. After the game Wenger joked along with the gathered media about the deployment of the hitherto maligned Gervinho up front on his own, in place of Olivier Giroud.
“Don't you know? We transform all wingers into central strikers and strikers into wingers,” Wenger said with the chuckle of a man at ease with a fine day at the office. What he’d just witnessed that made him so happy was burgeoning proof of an Arsenal team with progressively lofty ambitions.
Vapour trails lifted into the evening north London sky after the Gunners were done running rings round their baffled opponents; the two own goals that offered Arsenal a leg-up they hardly required a testament to not only Southampton’s abject defending but to the confusion caused by Arsenal’s speed of movement.
With Gervinho handed a start over Giroud – Wenger revealed afterwards that he wanted to take the heat off the Frenchman and had pondered the use of Gervinho up front on his own in pre-season – Arsenal were a different beast altogether.
It is almost baffling to believe the two sides split possession equally down the middle between them; evidence perhaps of the south coast’s club willingness to knock it around at the back in search of respite from the Arsenal deluge.
If the lingering doubts in Gervinho’s mind left over from an unimpressive maiden campaign last time round had been vanquished, Arsenal could have been out of sight before inside the first twenty minutes. As it was, they had to make to with having points in their pocket with 40 minutes on the clock instead.
The catalyst for Arsenal’s progression and indeed their main source danger on Saturday was Santi Cazorla. Handed the player of the month award before kick-off, the stocky Spaniard has taken to life in the Premier League as if it were the most natural thing in the world. To see his interplay with Lukas Podolski, another who seems to have been born for English football, was a joy to behold.
At one point in the first half the pair exchanged three or four passes, maneuvering and confusing the Southampton defence to carve an opening for Gervinho, only for some scampering defensive work to thwart a goal of unbridled beauty.
“He is a player who is just a pleasure to watch,” Wenger said of Cazorla afterwards. “We want him to have the ball and I think he typifies what Spain is today in midfield: technically perfect, great vision, great team attitude."
With Cazorla in full-flight, the imperial Mikel Arteta overseeing proceedings from the comfort of a few yards either side of the centre-circle, and a fluid front five with pace to burn and movement to blur the senses, there is a real sense growing around the Emirates that something special could happen this season.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular caught the eye while having Gervinho as a genuine alternative to Giroud in attack is an unexpected yet welcome added string to their bow. Wenger himself believes that the fluidity in attack was the key to their victory.
“The first 45 minutes were played at a very high level. A good combination of pace, speed in our passing, quick combinations. The movement was excellent."
Having seen Arsenal’s defensive unit take all the credit in their first three games of the season, each of which yielded a clean sheet, Wenger will take great delight in seeing his summer acquisitions bedding in alongside the existing members of his squad to create something potentially exciting.
Wenger, ever the alchemist, has interwoven his elements to create quite a compound going forward. The most surprising of which being Gervinho as a man who can quite effectively lead the line. The fine finish for his first of the day, once again after some poor defenisve work from Arsenal's most accomodating of guests was just reward for the trust shown in him by his manager.
His movement and pace to burn, coupled with the interplay of those behind him were simply to much for Southampton to bear. There was little respite when Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott entered the fray in the second half. Both got on the scoresheet, the latter refusing to celebrate against his former side.
Of course, it is all too easy to get carried away with a performance against weakened and confused opponents, and there are tests to come in the coming weeks which will help clarify Arsenal’s true potential this season.
There is little doubt this Arsenal side is a work in progress if their development from their early season stalemates right way through to Saturday’s victory is anything to go by; games against Montpellier, Manchester City and Chelsea in the coming weeks will test not only their mettle, but seek to open any fine lines on the surface of Wenger’s new purring machine.
“We have a big week coming up because on Tuesday we go to Montpellier, then we have Manchester City and then Chelsea," Wenger said. "We will know much more about the team then." Perhaps even enough to know if they can end their seven year trophy drought this year.
Southampton may not be in the same league as the teams that lie in wait ready to knock any new found confidence in north London, but they go into those games heartened by what they have seen so far. That alone, with a hellish set of fixtures to come, is enough to make Wenger keep on smiling for now.
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