Are Arsenal Genuine Title Contenders?
It seems an odd thing to ask for a side that is four points clear at the top of the league, but it’s a question a lot of football fans are asking right now. Arsenal are the early pacesetters in the Premier League
Arsenal back to the top
When we made our pre-season Premier League predictions, Arsenal returning to the Champions League was one of them. For a club that hadn’t finished in the top four since 2015-16, that was a genuine bold prediction.
Now, just a few months into the campaign, that almost looks like a certainty and in hindsight was a conservative prediction. The Gunners have won all but one of their opening ten matches and sit four points ahead of Manchester City before this latest round of midweek matches.
Surprisingly, only a floundering Manchester United have managed to get the best of Arsenal this season. In the other competitions, Arsenal are yet to play in either domestic cup but sit top of their Europa League group with three wins from three.
How has Arteta done it?
It’s never easy to transition a football club away from a legendary manager and that certainly proved to be the case with Arsenal. After Arsene Wenger retired at the end of the 2017-18, the North London club was in a state of flux.
Unai Emery lasted little more than a season, and The Arsenal went with the unconventional choice of Mikel Arteta as his compatriot’s replacement. Arteta had never managed a senior side before, but had been an instrumental part of Pep Guardiola’s backroom staff at Man City.
Arteta is also familiar with Arsenal, having played for the club between 2011 and 2016. Wenger and Guardiola are two of the best managers to have learned from and Arteta applied this knowledge to win silverware in his first season (the FA Cup).
The following two campaigns were lacklustre, with some sections of the Gunners support calling for Arteta’s head. However, Arteta was building something, and we’re now seeing the fruits of his labour.
Young players with plenty of potential such as Martin Ødegaard, Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White and Gabriel Martinelli have been brought in, it’s been a total overhaul of what was an under-performing squad. Add to the mix the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, players Arteta knew from the Etihad and you’ve got a perfect storm for good performances.
The confidence has been flowing such that academy graduates such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe have flourished. Even players that were derided such as Granit Xhaka have found form, this is a club reborn.
We need to see Man City v Arsenal to judge
To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best and with four title victories in the past five years, Manchester City have certainly been the best that England have offered domestically. We knew that the Citizens would be title contenders after an imperious display in the opening weekend.
How Arsenal will handle the likes of Erling Haaland when they come up against Pep Guardiola’s men will be very telling of how the rest of their season will go.
This week should’ve answered that question, but thanks to fixture pile-up, the Manchester City v Arsenal clash has been postponed.
This is a good thing for Arsenal, as their upcoming Premier League games are against the likes of Wolves, Southampton, Brighton and Nottingham Forest, relatively easy opponents by the standards of the league.
However, to their credit, Arsenal did recently beat Liverpool, a side that Man City lost to in the previous gameweek. So, it’s perfectly possible that the Gunners could’ve stretched their lead even further and put themselves in a position that they haven’t been in since the likes of Henry, Vieira, Cole and Campbell played for them.
How Arsenal rotate their squad and if they manage to avoid injuries will be vital to their success this season. Manchester City’s second side could finish in the top four of the Premier League, but the same cannot be said of The Gunners.
With the EFL Cup, FA Cup and Europa League all adding games to an already packed schedule, Arteta will be calling upon all of his players to be involved in a significant number of minutes in 2022-23.
If Arsenal do manage to win the Premier League, it’ll be one of the most surprising winners in recent times and would do the league no end of good when it comes to how competitive and open it is.
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