Looking at Mesut Ozil’s face as he departed the field towards the end of Arsenal’s 1-0 FA Cup win over Leeds, you could tell that he had put in a hard shift.
At full-time of the first few games of Mikel Arteta’s tenure as manager, that effort has been visible in Ozil’s team-mates, too – and it’s not often recently that you could have said that.
For some time now Arsenal have been soft-centred and Emirates Stadium an easy place for teams to visit. The Gunners either won in style or they lost; there was no in between.
That is exactly the sort of inconsistency that Arteta has set about trying to eradicate and, although it is very early to judge, the initial signs are promising.
Arteta’s key achievement so far has been instilling a work ethic. Four games in and during the busiest time in the football calendar, the former Arsenal and Everton midfielder has not had time for sweeping tactical changes, but the harder you work the better results tend to get.
Having spent three and a half years at Manchester City as an assistant to Pep Guardiola, who knows exactly what it takes to win in the Premier League, he will demand the same from his new charges.
Word is that he has upped the intensity of training and we have seen the effect in matches already. The team’s work rate has increased and in a very focused way, with players hunting for the ball in groups.
The Spaniard seems to have let his squad know that only the highest levels of application in all aspects of the game will do.
That wasn’t evident in the first 45 minutes against Leeds, when Arsenal didn’t turn up, but when you have the chance to correct that you have to be fearless and it’s to Arteta’s credit that he did at half-time.
Even in an age of players being largely cocooned from sergeant major-type figures, there is still a need for managers to be aggressive sometimes.
I can’t think of any coaches who have won the Premier League who weren’t able to both put an arm around a player’s shoulder and be brutally direct when it is required.
Previously I made the case for Patrick Vieira to return to Arsenal as manager as I felt he was the type of uncompromising character that they needed to shake up the club.
I didn’t necessarily see those traits in Arteta but now that he is stepping out of Guardiola’s shadow we are seeing that he is not short of backbone either.
Managerial changes typically herald a period of improvement and that doesn’t always last, as Jose Mourinho’s spell a couple of miles up the road in north London shows.
We are still so early in Arteta’s reign to draw firm conclusions, while he is also having to learn on the job. However, I would be surprised if we didn’t now see a period of sustained Arsenal improvement.
A trip to Chelsea later this month aside, the next six league games offer them a good chance to effectively relaunch their season.
First they face Crystal Palace and Sheffield United, the two teams directly above them in the table. If normal service is resumed, Arsenal will quickly be back in the top seven.
After that, their momentum can start to hurt Tottenham and Manchester United and they would not be a million miles away from putting pressure on Chelsea and a place in the top four.