Arsene Wenger's successor will inherit an awesome attack, flawed defence
Arsenal's 4-1 win over West Ham wasn't the outpouring of emotion many had predicted in the wake of Arsene Wenger's announcement to step down at the end of the season -- that will most likely come at the Burnley game in a couple of weeks -- but there's no doubt the mood around the Emirates was brighter than it has been in recent times.
The fractiousness that might have resulted in some half time boos after a first period in which Arsenal failed to really click as an attacking force was gone, replaced by a willingness to entertain and understand this team for what it is, knowing that its remaining shelf-life is short.
The manager's upcoming departure won't magically fix the defensive issues that were evident in the first 45 minutes, with Marko Arnautovic a particular irritant. Latching himself on to Shkodran Mustafi at every opportunity, clearly looking to take advantage of the German's recent poor form, he caused danger in the Arsenal box, while at the other end Danny Welbeck came close to being threatening but his timing and decision making were just not quite good enough.
The second half proved more fruitful though, Nacho Monreal continuing a fine goalscoring season with the opener from a Granit Xhaka corner. And although Arnautovic brought David Moyes' team level, his celebrations were enjoyably short-lived after Wenger brought on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the record signing changed the Gunners' attacking dynamic.
Whoever follows the Frenchman in the managerial hot-seat has got plenty of work to do restructuring and organising the team in midfield and at the back. Yet he will have an embarrassment of riches further forward, as demonstrated by the final 10 minutes when Arsenal added real gloss to the scoreline.
If there was more than a touch of good fortune to Aaron Ramsey's goal due to Declan Rice's failure to deal with what should have been a routine header, the Welsh international deserved it for a relentlessly energetic performance. With the team robbed of Mohamed Elneny late in the first half through injury, the 27-year-old picked up the slack and helped make things tick.
The final two goals were a show of this side's attacking potential. A fine move from left to right saw Aubameyang set up Alexandre Lacazette, and while it looked like he might have taken it too wide, he cracked a shot which flew beyond Joe Hart with the help of a small deflection -- but the power he generated ensured the West Ham keeper was never going to stop it anyway.
Then Ramsey's quick feet and a wonderfully sharp turn from the French international saw him make it 4-1, the former Lyon man making the most of tired legs and a stretched defence to double his tally for the day. He hasn't often played the full 90 this season as he's come to terms with the increased physical demands of the English game, but now looks up to speed and ahead of Thursday's clash with Atletico Madrid, scoring twice will be timely boost for his confidence.
Wenger had picked a stronger side than some had predicted, not wrapping players in cotton wool and preferring for them to find some fluency and rhythm before the club's most important European game since a Champions League semifinal against Manchester United in 2009.
He was without Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Henrikh Mkhitaryan too, and although the Armenian will miss Thursday's game, the Arsenal manager will be hoping his most creative midfielder recovers from illness to pull the strings against the Spaniards. It's these two Europa League games which matter now. The tangible prize is the trophy should they get that far, the financial reward is entry into next season's Champions League.
That boost to the coffers should not be underestimated either. A new coach will demand funds to invest in the squad, and players these days -- even fairly average ones as Arsenal have found out -- do not come cheap.
Success in Europe would be a wonderful way to say goodbye to a man who has done brilliant work for so many years, but also a fantastic welcome gift to his replacement.