ARSENAL manager Unai Emery got the best birthday present he could have wished for in the performance his stars delivered against Liverpool this evening.
Maybe the champagne had to be put on ice and and the day wasn’t as complete as three points would have made it.
But sometimes in football the result isn’t everything and although Liverpool spoiled his 47th birthday there was still plenty for Emery to celebrate.
This was nearly as good as a birthday can get but Emery will know his side are maturing nicely and a year from now Arsenal could well be the real deal.
And the icing on his cake was surely Lucas Torreira – a Uruguayan ball of energy and technical excellence who symbolises the upward trajectory.
Arsenal are heading in the right direction and in Torreira they surely have one of the rising stars of the Premier League.
Every top side in England has a defensive midfielder who oozes class.
Manchester City have Fernandinho, Chelsea have N’Golo Kante and, until he was injured, Naby Keita was an emerging force at Liverpool.
In Torreira – a £26.4 million steal from Sampdoria in the summer – Arsenal have discovered a real gem.
Liverpool take some stopping in full flow but Torreira did more than just that. He shut down Liverpool’s creative hub, breaking up play, ratting like an old school midfielder and showing composure on the ball to turn defence into attack.
The South American is a star in the making and seems to be getting better as he gets used to the frenetic frenzy of English football.
And if this was Emery’s vision of how the new Arsenal should play it’s a good look.
Plenty of managers talk a good game but delivering the goods is another thing altogether.
So for Emery the best birthday present he could have wished for was to see the way his stars are buying into a new era at Arsenal with the same hunger and enthusiasm he’s showed from day one at The Emirates.
At least a year, maybe two was the forecast for the Spaniard to make his mark with the Gunners – but scrap that.
Arsenal are way ahead of schedule and the searching test they gave Liverpool in North London last night must have felt for a while at least like it was every Arsenal fans birthday.
After the decline in the last couple of seasons of Arsene Wenger’s reign it was crystal clear against Jurgen Klopp’s early season pacemakers that Arsenal are facing a brighter future.
Tasting defeat instead of a classy glass of red wine wasn’t the way Emery planned to spend his day.
But there was plenty here to cheer the Arsenal boss who has only had one transfer window to put his own impression on his new team.
Klopp’s in his fourth season at Liverpool and given that fact, the comparison between the two sides is undoubtedly a favourable one for Arsenal.
And any manager who can get whipping boy Granit Xhaka being appreciated by the fans, Henrikh Mkhitaryan busting a gut all over the pitch and Mesut Ozil putting in a big shift in a top clash must have something special in his locker.
This was high octane stuff right from the start – but it was Arsenal who more than held their own against a Liverpool side striving to end 29 years of title misery.
Arsenal felt they could easily have been awarded a first half penalty when Brazilian keeper Alisson flattened Mkhitryan as he attacked a cross by Aubameyang.
Referee Andre Marriner was not interested and nor did he have sympathy for Liverpool when Sadio Mane tapped in to an empty net a couple of minutes later.
The Senegalese striker was initially offside when Joe Gomez launched the ball forward but he appeared onside when he reacted quickly after Roberto Firmino’s effort came back off the post.
It was a kick in the teeth when the evergreen James Milner fired Liverpool ahead just after the hour but Arsenal fought their way back with impressive style and character to equalise through Alexandre Lacazette’s sizzling finish.
In a breathless game maybe a draw was the right result.
Not quite the perfect birthday maybe for Emery – but pretty close.