There may come a time – and it may well be very soon – when we need to have a serious conversation about Arsenal being a very good team again. Pathological underachievers in recent years under Arsene Wenger, the smell of change is in the air at Emirates Stadium, just as surely as the leaves brown and the chill begins to descend at this time of year.
A dominant, significant 2-0 win over Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday night showcased this new incarnation of Arsenal at an extremely impressive level – especially in a mesmerising first half as they combined superbly to cut through Rafa Benitez's Italians at will with a torrent of precise passing moves.
As he starts his 18th year in charge of the club, the past five or so of which have been fraught with such crushing disappointment, one can begin to detect rumblings that Wenger may have finally constructed a new team worthy of comparison with some of its grander predecessors, a team on the cusp of achieving a level of maturity that has eluded this club for some time.
Legitimate questions remain over the reliability of Wojciech Szczensy and his defence,even if they were the second most stingy in England last season. Laurent Koscielny, brilliant though he can be at reading the game and making crucial interventions, is still too prone to a red card, own goal or rash challenge in the box; Per Mertesacker, though imperious at times over the past 12 months, is still a worry when facing a side with electric pace; Bacary Sagna still has some way to go to make amends for his poor displays last season; while Kieran Gibbs has not yet achieved the reliability of a Nigel Winterburn or Ashley Cole, though he may do in future.
But is not with an uncompromising defence that Wenger's team have so impressed this season, rather the intricate dominance of their midfield and the cavalier thrusts of their attacks.
It is a season which - it should be noted with some level of caution - is still in its infancy. Still, following that opening day defeat to Aston Villa, when Arsenal's comical defending, injuries and general ineptitude were so strikingly reminiscent of recent debacles under Wenger, the club have now recorded 10 straight wins, if you include a penalty victory over West Brom in the League Cup.
Even if the fixture list has not constructed a particularly rigorous test of Arsenal's credentials, it is a fairly compelling run of form. So too is the fact they have lost only once in 22 games, winning 18, since an unexpected away victory at Bayern Munich in March - a match that seemed to awaken something in Wenger and his team.
If an almost imperceptible slow burn has been active for months, then a more obvious short-term catalyst can also be readily identified. A £42.5 million club record signing, made by a manager with such a dogmatic, parsimonious approach as Wenger, will always be flagged as an obvious demarcation point. But there is little doubt the arrival of Mesut Ozil has transformed this club, both in terms of perception and, even at this early stage, achievement.
Quite aside from his four assists and a goal in five games since Real Madrid inexplicably made him the sacrificial lamb for the signing of Gareth Bale, Ozil has displayed that rare ability to raise the competence and confidence of those around him – a mercurial role performed by other foreign geniuses like Dennis Bergkamp, Gianfranco Zola and, perhaps most notably, Eric Cantona.
Writing for this website last season, Paul Parker recalled the impact made by the Frenchman at Manchester United: "In the 1991-92 season we were too predictable. Teams knew what we were going to do: if they could stop Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs then they had a decent chance. The signing of Eric changed all that. Suddenly we had a player who could find a pass out of nothing, who through the strength of his talent made other players lift their games. You knew if you made a run then Eric would find you, so we all became more ambitious, we all believed in ourselves more."
You can sense Ozil having a similar effect at Arsenal: players know he will locate them with a laser-guided ball if they find the space; team-mates are more confident of executing an ambitious, quick pass when they know Ozil is on the end of it to display his wondrous control of a football. Ozil is the rising tide that lifts all boats.
Aaron Ramsey has been the most obvious beneficiary of the German's arrival – absorbing quality almost by osmosis. Although, like Arsenal themselves, his renaissance can be traced to prior to the signing of Ozil - for Ramsey it was his utilisation in a deep role towards the end of last season that sparked an upturn in performance - it has certainly been accelerated too. Last night against Napoli his combinations with the German were regularly thrilling; it was his cross which Ozil so audaciously dispatched first time past Pepe Reina.
Even stationed out on the right wing – the position which became his bete noir last season due to a number of unconvincing performances which so antagonised some Arsenal supporters – Ramsey was able to turn in another influential performance.
Napoli were dismal, it is true, but this is a team who have been tipped to win Serie A, dropping only two points this season so far, and only two weeks ago defeated Borussia Dortmund. At the Emirates Stadium, though, they were constantly exposed in a hugely one-sided first half of the first half, Camilo Zuniga and Miguel Britos particularly culpable for a dismal defensive display. It wasn't quite 20 minutes that shook the Emirates - not like the tiki-taka Blitzkreig that Barcelona inflicted in 2010 - but it wasn't too far off.
Arsenal left Rafa Benitez’s team mute and pulverised thanks to their combative and slick performance in midfield. Central to that effort was another summer signing in Mathieu Flamini, snarling, snapping into tackles and bossing around his team-mates – as he has done ever since that unlikely return to Arsenal action against Tottenham.
For Arsenal’s second goal on 15 minutes – finished by Olivier Giroud following a darting run into the box by Ozil – it was Flamini who won the ball high up the pitch from a throw and laid it off to the striker, demonstrating how important his tenacious presence has become to this new Arsenal side.
There is a very strong argument that Arsenal never really recovered from the ruinous summer of 2008 when Flamini was one of three quality defensive midfielders – the others being Gilberto Silva and Lassana Diarra – who were allowed to leave the club without a proper replacement being sourced; Wenger’s flawed, symbolic handing of the baton to youngster Denilson proving faulty. Alex Song, for his rather sporadic talent, was never a midfield destroyer, but now Arsenal have one again.
All this is not to say Arsenal are suddenly favourites for the league – Wenger was right to say that talk of the title at this stage of the season is “ridiculous” – or they will even win a trophy this season. But Wenger's midfield possesses so much quality it would be silly not to at least recognise they are producing some of their most fluent and effective football in many a year.
Perhaps not since the failed title challenge of 2007-08, and before the harrowing events at St Andrews that effectively ended it, have Arsenal had a team this convincing. Though Wenger will hope his latest crop have more of a backbone than the ultimately fragile team led by William Gallas, a recent club record run of away wins is certainly a positive sign.
More than any statistic, though, it is the perceptible swagger that Arsenal again possess, the confidence that comes with building a team around Ozil, which is allowing their long-suffering fans to believe again.