Arsenal show style and substance to go top, but are still underdogs for the Premier League title

Aresenal Villa

Last night Arsenal displayed their classiest best, whilst also having to grind out the victory in a nervy finale at Villa Park. At times during the first half ‘Total Football’ was on display as Arsenal looked back to their classic, high tempo, passing pinnacle after having to settle to grind out results in recent weeks.

Jack Wilshere, who was given the Man of the Match award was back to his brilliant top form, dictating the rhythm of match as the Gunners dominated with him scoring and also assisting.

Elsewhere, Santi Cazorla and Serge Gnabry, the two wide players, got involved in the neat passing game in the central areas allowing Nacho Monreal and Bacary Sagna to occupy the wide areas as they spent the majority of their time in Aston Villa’s half during the first 45 minutes.

Mesut Ozil, despite perhaps not living up to the expectations many had for him, caused Villa problems too by drifting between the lines, which helped Arsenal open the scoring. Ozil’s exchange with Monreal led to the Spaniard setting up Wilshere for the opening goal before Jack played in Olivier Giroud just 17 seconds after play was restarted.

Arsenal looked irresistible in the first half showing why this current crop are capable of going the distance with their quality just too much for Paul Lambert’s team to deal with. Manchester City and Chelsea may be seen by the experts as having more quality but that certainly isn’t the case after witnessing the first half at Villa Park, a ground at which City lost at earlier in the season.

The second half was more about seeing the job out in terms of returning back to the summit, where Arsenal have been for the majority of the season. As much as the free-flowing football in the first half was similar to the Arsenal of recent seasons, so was the goal that was conceded as Cazorla tried to play his way out of trouble only to find Matthew Lowton, whose cross was converted by Christian Benteke.

The Arsenal of old though may have crumbled – the Arsenal many seem to think still lingers.

It seems though that gone are the days of a nervy Arsenal backline thanks to the influence of Steve Bould, who appears to have transformed the defensive mindset in the squad.

Those final 14 minutes, plus the six added on, may have been nervy for the fans on the sidelines but Wojciech Szczesny, Laurent Koscienly and Per Mertesacker had it all under control as the Gunners were back to grinding out another victory.

Winning matches ugly is something sides who want to win titles have to do, and is something is current team appears to be growing increasingly good at.

Arsenal Villa

During his first spell at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho’s team were praised for their stubbornness in defence which saw them deliver the title and though his current side seem more frail many are still backing them, yet Arsenal are still struggling to be given a look-in even after proving how strong they can be in defending a lead.

Even if the result at Villa Park doesn’t win the experts over – which is likely to happen, it may benefit Arsenal to continue to be the underdog in the title race.

It is surprising how little credibility the Gunners’ title charge is being given, especially with the experience of Arsene Wenger leading a group of players who have been assembled and have worked through tough times together in the past.

Wenger acted smartly in the summer transfer window adding Mathieu Flamini, to hold the midfield tightly together whilst aiding Mertesacker in organising the rest of the team.

Flamini’s understanding for the club, having already been with the club is crucial too, especially as he was at the club when the last bit of silverware was delivered.

Ozil was obviously the big addition in the summer, and lifted the morale within the squad showing the players already in the squad that they are capable of stepping up despite many still claiming not to have seen the best of the German, but his impact has been key.

The other summer signing, Yaya Sanogo may have been disappointing so far, but Wenger has admitted the signing of the young Frenchman was a risk.

His injury problems have limited any major contribution thus far and he could have been a handy squad player if fit with the lack of options up front and if he can get fit he could also have a say our title bid.

The quality is there, despite there only being a small squad but what is lacking in numbers is made up for in spirit with it clear to see the players are playing for each other.

Being favourites or not in the title race is not big deal for Arsenal, but Wenger’s knowhow and experience looks as though it has been key, and with the squad assembled and looking good the title bid is in full flow, though some additions would be useful.

Guy Clarke

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