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Wenger's work makes progress

Quality, then, but not without a few caveats. Although Arsenal may be high in the table as well as high in the general excellence of their display, we still don't truly know where they are as a team.

The uncertainty is more to do with the opposition they have encountered rather than Arsenal themselves, who are coming along nicely. In the first two games, the fact they played two of the deepest-lying teams in the Premier League painted an unfair picture of their attack as well as a flattering one of their defence, with that only followed by a Liverpool side who have problems at both ends.

On Saturday came a Southampton team who descended into a rabble, as illustrated by the two own goals that gave Arsenal such a pleasing platform from which to express themselves.

As such, it's been extreme to extreme for Arsene Wenger's side. It can't be denied that they admirably exploited the latest one to the fullest degree. Indeed, it was a day when almost everything went right.

The sheer incisiveness of the team recalled the movement of the Invincibles; Lukas Podolski kept up his scoring form with an exceptional free-kick; the midfield seemed better balanced than ever; and, most illustrative of the kind of afternoon it was, Gervinho looked a genuinely top-level attacker for the first time since signing.

The only negatives were Olivier Giroud failing to open his account and the Wojciech Szczesny error that led to the end of that perfect defensive record.

Otherwise it was hard for anyone at the club to complain. Wenger certainly didn't, even if, when talking about Podolski's integration, he acknowledged it's still hard to get a proper sense of where they actually stand.

"With the right quality of pass, it's easier to adapt," Wenger said. "So, when the team plays as well as it did today, adaptation is easier. But, when you have to fight and are exposed to the real English game, it's more difficult. 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."

Notably, there were the rampaging runs of the impressive Kieran Gibbs, which led to the own goals from Jos Hooiveld, in particularly calamitous fashion, and Nathaniel Clyne. "We were a bit lucky because they conceded two own goals," Wenger said, "but, overall, there was a level of continuity between [the Liverpool match] and today."

Not just continuity but construction. Arsenal built on that Anfield performance in a number of ways, not least the innovative use of Gervinho.

It's fair to say that the forward was a huge disappointment in his debut season and, without doubt, this was the first time he received a standing ovation at the Emirates. The Ivorian was deployed through the centre and absolutely revelled, generally looking threatening and finishing superbly twice.

As Gervinho so easily and excellently turned Maya Yoshida to set up the opportunity for his first, he might have felt a twinge of sympathy for the Japanese defender. An emergency substitute for the injured Hooiveld, Yoshida looked like the wide-eyed stranger to the Premier League that Gervinho was in his own first campaign. Here, though, the forward was the master.

Indeed, his display put Wenger in such a good mood that the Arsenal manager was willing to joke about it: "Don't you know? We transform all wingers into central strikers and strikers into wingers."

More seriously, though, he shed light on the genesis of the switch: "In fact, I decided during our tour of Asia when I played him against Manchester City in that position. I liked what he did and it was in my mind. He is so quick and, once he gets ahead of that central defender..."

Of course, Gervinho's performance was facilitated by the perfect passing behind him. Although still very early in the season, Arsenal's midfield is already looking one of the best and most balanced in the league.

Steadying things, there is the intelligence of Mikel Arteta. Francis Coquelin caught the eye in particular with one exceptional pass for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Indeed, although it may well have been a bit of revisionism after the fact, Wenger insisted the club never signed a replacement for Alex Song precisely because of Coquelin's qualities.

"Yes, we didn't go into the market because of him, as well as [Emmanuel] Frimpong, [Jack] Wilshere coming back. Wilshere is not far away now. Frimpong is joining on Monday; [Abou] Diaby as well," Wenger added. "In fact, we have no real defensive midfielder because we all go forward when we have the ball."

Wenger praised the impact of the supreme Santo Cazorla: "He is a player who is just a pleasure to watch. 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."

Arsenal further illustrated their options when Aaron Ramsey came on to provide his most complete performance in some time. At one point, he crushed a Southampton attack at source with a crunching tackle. At another, he further crushed the confidence of their defence by working the ball past Clyne to hit the post and Gervinho made it five.

It was testament to Arsenal's impressive array of attacking angles that the scorer of the last goal, Theo Walcott, felt like something of an afterthought. That was in stark contrast to the summer when the winger's contract situation threatened to further darken the transfer window for Wenger's side.

That window, of course, was dominated and supposedly defined by Robin van Persie. Naturally, though, this win added a further thread to that narrative.

As genuinely world-class as Van Persie is and will continue to be for Manchester United, there was a feeling during the summer that his departure may not have been the most damaging for Arsenal because it meant the club aren't quite so dependent on one player, allowing them to bring in a trio of other attackers. That was certainly on show against Southampton. And, although it's unknown whether Wenger was referring to his former captain, he did make a point of noting the sense of collective about the side now.

"There is a positive energy in this team, a desire to play together, real team play. It's very exciting," he added.

For Southampton it was only excruciating. Their own start to the season has been somewhat skewed too since, in four games, they have already played all of the 2011-12 top three. But, unlike the displays against the two Manchester clubs, here they were embarrassingly turned over with rumours starting to swirl about Nigel Adkins's future.

"We just played a very good team," Adkins said. "Players of this standard are going to punish you. They were ruthless weren't they?"

The big question, though, is whether Arsenal can be as ruthless when the level is raised. "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."

At the least, everything we do know so far is hardly negative.


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