This week I was asked by the editor of my tabloid column a very direct question:
Should Arsenal now be considered genuine Premier League title challengers?
With Arteta’s team sitting proudly top of the table after a quarter of the campaign, having just beaten 2 major rivals and won 3 hard fought points away at Leeds, you have to say, it is a reasonable question. Particularly when, without playing this week, Arsenal will still be top ahead of this weekend’s visit to St. Mary’s.
To answer fully, I thought it best to first assess why and how Arsenal have progressed, and the new qualities and attributes that have brought Arteta and his team to this point. These, I hope, will serve as compelling reasons why Arsenal should be taken seriously.
1 Charismatic – ‘Exercising a compelling charm which inspires devotion in others.’
The dictionary definition of the word perfectly describes Arteta’s leadership. His team (and, by all indications, the vast majority of the fanbase) believes in his vision, and there is so much evidence for this in the actions, words and body language of his players.
2 Composed – There is a new composure about the team this season, born of belief in the strategy and vision of the manager, combined with a heightened technical ability of the players, particularly when playing out from the back.
3 Collectiveness – Much has been spoken of late about the togetherness and camaraderie of the squad that Arteta and Edu have assembled – but this element has been vital to the improvements on the pitch. Tough decisions were made on certain senior players who the manager deemed disruptive or perhaps too individualist. The club backed Arteta, despite there being little fiscal argument in favour of the decisions; the new squad, without egos, is visibly happier and enjoying its football. This collectiveness on the pitch is transmitted to the crowds, and we are playing our part, more so than in recent memory.
4 Courage – It is clear that as Arteta has grown into the role and been able to bring in players to suit his vision, but it’s also clear that he has relaxed. The accusations early on that he set up his teams too defensively, or not to lose, are buried in the past. This team, that sits top of a tough league, has been allowed to express itself and to play with bravery. There is a combative streak that runs through this team that I have not seen since the early Wenger era.
5 Concentration – The ill-discipline and rashness so evident over recent years seems largely eradicated. No team will ever be without individual error, but these are now few and far between, and whichever defensive unit is selected concentrates for the whole 90 plus minutes. This was so clearly evident in the latter stages against Liverpool and is also well illustrated by the near elimination of Arsenal conceding from corners. It is also perfectly shown when the players all know their roles when Arsenal lose the ball.
6 Consistentcy – Consistency is something that Arteta and his fledgling team have not maintained in recent seasons, and it cost Arsenal Champion’s League football qualification at the end of 21/22. The younger players are now that much more experienced and, guided by seasoned veterans Partey and Xhaka, have shown a wonderful consistency this season. This is greatly enhanced by the togetherness and understanding of the manager’s wishes described above.
7 Confidence – With consistency of style and performance comes positives results and that in turn breeds confidence. Not arrogance, but a self-belief within the squad born of success. It was said of the early Wenger teams that often the opposition were beaten in the tunnel at Highbury and it feels that this team’s togetherness – and, indeed, their physicality and stature – is breeding a strong collective confidence in 22/23.
8 Creativity – The enhanced creativity displayed on the pitch is evident and linked to the licence the manager has given his team. The signing of Gabriel Jesus has been a huge factor, giving Martinelli, Saka and Odegaard so much more mobility in a front man to work with. Vieira too may well add to this as the season progresses, perhaps as Reyes offered Wenger variety and options in 2003/4. The change to 433, with Partey as a sole No.6 has also given Granit Xhaka a freer role to utilise his exquisite passing further up the pitch.
Clinical – The first 8 C’s are all the reasons why I feel this Arsenal should and will be challenging well into 2023 but the last C, ‘clinical’ is also the one that to me suggests 2022/23 may be too early for Arteta’s fabulous squad to challenge Man City. This fabulous analysis from Transfermarkt is why I believe this. It shows that after 9 matches Arsenal have improved so much as an attacking threat that their conversion of chances is the best in the Premier League at 16.4%.
However, it also clearly illustrates why Man City are likely to be uncatchable this season. Guardiola’s team have created over 50% more goal scoring opportunities than Arsenal (219 as against 140.) When you factor in that a certain Erling Haaland is the main beneficiary of these openings it is hard to see how Arsenal surpasses the Champions.
All that said, being a football supporter is all about passion and belief and this team is showing us passion and giving us renewed cause to believe.
This is an adapted version of yesterday’s Sun Football Fan’s View Column.
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.