Emmanuel Eboue celebrated Arsenal’s second goal against Celtic on Wednesday night by raising his shirt to reveal the legend “Thanks Be To God”, but it is Arsène Wenger who was enjoying the adulation in the red half of North London, as a 3-1 victory over Celtic secured entry into the Champions League group stage.
Arsenal’s supporters have often been cast as a lost people in recent years, living on former glories and prayers for redemption. In hyperbolic Premier League terms the five years since the age of “The Invincibles” may as well have been a biblical forty, and the season has begun with ominous prophecies of the Gunners’ eviction from the Promised Land of the top four.
“In Arsène We Trust” and “Keep the Faith” ran the forlorn pleas of the faithful at a hushed Emirates.
However, with Champions League football secured and ten goals in two dazzling weekend romps, Wenger’s acolytes have much to cheer with the season just two weeks old. More surprising still, three of the stars of the show on Wednesday were players recently ridiculed by their own fans. Their apparent transformation will be taken by some as further evidence of the manager’s miraculous powers, by others as another confounding quirk of what the Arsenal fans dub “Wengerball”.
Eboue’s own redemption began last season, as he fought back from a reckless red card performance in mid-season to silence the boos, but this season he looks to have raised his game to another level. Ostensibly stationed on the right of a new-look attacking trio, Eboue managed to combine the best of his old overlapping full-back’s running with a newfound touch and composure.
His tireless pressing and an appetite for work that had him popping up right across the front three on Wednesday night were reminiscent of Rooney or Tevez at their most tigrish. The calm touch with which he steadied himself to slot home Arsenal’s third was even more impressive from the impetuous Ivorian.
William Gallas is another who has failed to realize his full potential in recent seasons, sulking on the touchline, losing the captaincy and bickering with defensive partner Kolo Toure. Alongside the forthright presence of Thomas Vermaelen he is back to the form that made him a surprising makeweight in the Ashley Cole’s acrimonious move to Chelsea a few seasons ago.
One diving header to whisk a cross off a Celtic striker’s bootlaces epitomised his renewed commitment. Even more surprising were his forays up the right wing outside the enterprising Eboue – on one occasion he left two defenders for dead with a dart to the penalty-area byline that would have made Theo Walcott proud.
If Eboue and Gallas always seemed to have the potential to shine, then Denilson will strike some as the most unexpected revelation of Arsenal’s August awakening. The little Brazilian was derided by the club’s own supporters for appearing too slight and too slow to impose himself on the Premier League, a poor replacement for the all-action Flamini.
However, he has clearly been alongside Jack Wilshere in the weights room this summer and now has the presence to run a midfield. A sharp spin in the final third to shield the ball from two closely competing Celtic players showed he has the strength and bulk to retain the ball under pressure, which can only add to his confidence in possession.
He has too often been muscled off the ball as he brought it out of defence. Top of the Premier League interception charts last year, the Brazilian’s positional intelligence is now matched by a Premier League physique.
Another year, another display of sparkling attacking football from Le Professeur's protégés, three revelations and some signs of steel in defence. And so we ask once again, are Arsène's kids finally ready to turn into men?