London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea have celebrated quarter-final victories to move within two matches of a possible Europa League derby final.
With an Arsenal team under the new management of Spaniard Unai Emery and a football world curious to evaluate their reinvention, the English Premier League draw has well and truly put them to the test.
With an opening weekend fixture against Manchester City and a clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the agenda for Week 2, it was always going to be a baptism of fire for the Gunners.
City claimed the points in the first of those games with a comfortable 2-0 victory and given Chelsea were seeking a second win to start its season, the writing was well and truly on the wall for Emery’s men.
As with all challenges and adversity, there is scope to look at a situation through a lens of opportunity rather than an inevitable loss. There are weekly examples of Premier League clubs being psychologically beaten before even taking to the pitch.
The lesser lights often enter matches looking to scrap a result, hoping for luck and their more expensive and pedigreed opponents to have an off day rather than showing resolve and a belief in their ability to actually prevail.
Arsenal are certainly not one of those lesser lights, yet it was something of an early mental test with Chelsea looking the likely winner and a place very near the bottom of the ladder awaiting the Gunners should an early second loss become a reality.
The Gunners’ attitude and application against its cross-town rival would determine their fate.
To win, Emery and his team would need to savour the opportunity behind the early season football audit. To hold any serious aspirations of a high league finish, clashes with Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea must be treated as exactly what they really are; Champions League qualification play-offs.
It is hard to see beyond a top two of Manchester City and Liverpool this season. Essentially, that means the scrap for European qualification will once again become a dogfight between Arsenal, those listed above, and one or two others who dare stick their nose into the top six throughout the season.
If that likely scenario does indeed play out, Arsenal haven’t made the greatest of starts to their post-Arsene Wenger existence and Chelsea sat atop the ladder as of Sunday morning London time.
It was a 3-2 victory for the Blues. A victory that looked comfortable early on yet one which seemed quite distant until an 81st-minute goal from defender Marcos Alonso secured the points.
Earlier, Arsenal had done brilliantly to claw back a two-goal deficit after Pedro and Alvaro Morata had delivered a nightmare start for the visitors in the first 20 minutes. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi had the Gunners level by the break, in an entertaining half where defensive lapses were frequent.
It was a long wait, with dominant possession numbers for Chelsea, before the goal eventually came. It crushed an Arsenal team that appeared to have taken the necessary belief into the game and subsequently given themselves a chance at victory.
It wasn’t to be and mired near the bottom they are, however, there were enough signs in this match to suggest Arsenal have more than enough weaponry to challenge most and they won’t be cellar dwellers for long.
While pointless at this early stage and in a lowly position on the table, they may wish to issue a departing wave to West Ham United and Fulham as their draw softens and the wins start to come. Both suffered their second losses, with Tottenham far too strong for Fulham and the Hammers going down 2-1 to Bournemouth.
Along with a Cardiff side still to find the net after a lacklustre draw with Newcastle, both look in considerable difficulty despite the season being in its infancy.
Huddersfield and Brighton had their chances to remove themselves from that very same conversation as they met Manchester City and Manchester United respectively, in Sunday action.
Sadly for Huddersfield, it was a 6-1 humiliation with Sergio Aguero running riot, yet Brighton stunned Manchester United with three first-half goals and a hard-fought 3-2 victory.
Everton and Leicester City notched their first wins of the campaign and Watford moved to third on the table after dealing with Burnley away from home.
The most appetising clash in Week 3 doesn’t arrive until Monday evening when Manchester United face Tottenham, yet Wolves will have their day in the sun when they clash with the might of Manchester City to open the weekend of matches.
Just how good are the Championship winners of last season? What better way to find out.