If you'd have told Arsenal supporters before their match with West Bromwich Albion that they would face a disciplined team managed by big Sam Allardyce on a freezing cold, snowy evening at The Hawthorns, they'd probably have asked if there was any chance of a postponement.
Unfortunately for those pessimistic Gooners, the pitch and weather conditions were deemed adequate for a duel, and this fragile set of confidence-shot players were forced out of their dressing rooms and into the lion's den.
For many teams, this opposition combined with these almost unplayable conditions would be considered a potential banana skin. For Mikel Arteta, this was a newly-waxed marble floor, covered in oil, with a single banana skin on top. Oh, and they're all wearing bowling shoes.
What was needed on Saturday night more than ever, was courage, heart, and a crop of hungry young starlets, prepared to stick two fingers up to the snow and the doubters. Luckily for Arteta and Gooners everywhere, Arsenal had enough of these rough diamonds to ease past West Brom, and take another step towards a full recovery.
The visitors were still well away from full strength, with Pablo Mari and Emile Smith Rowe continuing their rare runs in the side. But Arteta opted for an adventurous front four, consisting of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka on the left and right flanks, and Smith Rowe operating just behind Alexandre Lacazette in attack.
It was a forward line filled with pace, experience, canny knowhow and youthful exuberance - and bags of potential. This time, everything clicked, and the Gunners treated their supporters to a masterclass on attacking movement.
The front four threatened to burst into life on a couple of occasions, with the wingers regularly vacating the flanks for their full-backs to hurtle forward. Hector Bellerin had an early shot blocked from one of his marauding ventures into the West Brom penalty area, but it was only a sign of things to come.
Fellow full-back Kieran Tierney broke the deadlock on 20 minutes, benefitting from being awarded the freedom of the left flank to bomb forward, cut inside and crash a stunning strike beyond Sam Johnstone.
The real showpiece arrived a few minutes later, when the front four combined majestically to double the lead. Lacazette received the ball with his back to goal, and cheekily flicked a pass around the corner to Smith Rowe, who had got on his bike the moment he saw the action unfolding.
The youngster's fluid movement and quick-thinking caught the entire West Brom defence by surprise, and they could only watch as he rolled the ball into the path of Saka, who tapped into an empty net. For a brief few seconds, all the problems of the past five months melted away like the snow beneath their feet.
Gooners had their Arsenal back.
In fairness, Areta's men did not take their foot off the pedal, and having survived a nervy opening ten minutes to the second half, Lacazette killed the game with one fell swing of his boot. The Frenchman grabbed his second and Arsenal's fourth minutes later, nudging the ball over the line from another Tierney cross.
The Scottish defender was imperious on that left flank, and even at 4-0, he never allowed the West Brom backline any rest. Overall, it was a stunning display from Arsenal, from start to finish. They were confident, disciplined, fluid and creative.
They were everything they haven't been in recent weeks, bar their impressive victory over Chelsea. But their second win on the bounce did prove one thing: that performance against the Blues was no fluke - this group of players are on back on track, and just in time, too.
Source : 90min