Despite their weekend setback against Southampton, Arsenal are still top of the Premier League.
This has led many to dismiss their title credentials, as only two points separate them from second-place City in the standings. It seems only a matter of time before they get usurped.
However, based on what has gone on this season as well as what lies ahead, it could be a mistake to write Arsenal off. Here are a few reasons why the Gunners might be able to last the pace.
In a weird season, weird things can happen
The World Cup has never held in the middle of the European league season before. Qatar 2022 is unusual in a number of ways, but it is in its impact on the footballing calendar that it is truly unique.
This means it is practically impossible to second-guess outcomes this season. Literally anything can happen as fatigue and injuries set in, and it might simply be a matter of one team being best placed to take advantage of the situation. There is no reason why Arsenal cannot step up to the plate. They are playing well, and presently are top of the table. Speaking of which…
They’re top of the table for a reason
By no means are any titles handed out at the end of October. No one is rejoicing just yet. That said, a quarter of the season has come and gone, and Arsenal are still sitting on top.
If it was any other team, they would be considered a proper challenger; the Gunners are being discounted for two reasons: their history (they have not won the title since 2004), and the presence of Manchester City (more on them later). However, (poor) records exist to be broken and no team can reign forever.
It may be early still, and there will be tougher tests ahead, but Arsenal have handled every challenge thrown at them so far, and deserve their two-point lead at the top.
Arsenal have signed well
The Gunners’ impressive start has been powered by good recruitment.
Gabriel Jesus has been outstanding in attack in terms of creating chances and generating shots, Oleksandr Zinchenko has been a key presence when fit, and Arsenal are finally reaping the rewards of investing in William Saliba’s generational talent.
They probably could have signed another midfielder, and the squad is crying out for a strong back-up presence on the wings, but it is clear that the players who have come in have immediately taken Arsenal up a level or two.
Liverpool and Spurs are floundering
Part of the reason few expected much from Arsenal this season was that Tottenham, with their newfound depth, and Liverpool were tipped to be the closest challengers to Manchester City.
To everyone’s surprise, however, Liverpool are having a shocking season so far, crippled by injuries and lacking in hunger. The loss of Sadio Mane has hit hard in attack, but even their previously solid defence is suffering.
Tottenham have also underwhelmed. While their results have just about held up, the performances have been poor from Antonio Conte’s side.
Neither Spurs nor Liverpool look to have the consistency and quality of play needed to challenge, and the projects at both Chelsea and Manchester United look unfinished. That opens the door for Arsenal, who have shown both consistency and quality.
City have sold their depth
Manchester City are still a formidable opponent. The reigning champions have the conqueror Erling Haaland upfront, and will not give up their crown without a fight.
However, the Norwegian is masking an important truth: Pep Guardiola’s side are weaker this season. The reason: they sold Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.
While neither player was a sure starter last season, they provided crucial depth for City. A league is 38 matches, a marathon that requires a squad to execute, not just 11 players.
Outside of their starting XI, City have only two forwards to call on before they start needing to turn to academy prospects.
This sort of gamble in a season when the World Cup provides a peculiar challenge seems arrogant. It’s almost inevitable that it will come back to bite Guardiola, and when it does, it will be to Arsenal’s benefit.
Arteta knows the enemy well
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta is in a unique position, having been an assistant to Guardiola for a number of years. He knows what makes his former boss’ system tick, and how best to exploit it.
Last season, in their meeting at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal dominated the game early, took the lead and were in control until Gabriel’s red card and a controversial penalty.
If, as seems likely, it comes down to a straight shoot-out between the Gunners and the Citizens, Arteta’s institutional and tactical knowledge of the enemy could be Arsenal’s secret weapon.
The Gunners are strong on the road
One of the signs of a serious title contender is form away from home. Anyone can win on their own turf, but how a team fares on its travels speaks to its character.
So far this season, despite their only league defeat coming away at Manchester United, Arsenal have the league’s best record on enemy ground. What’s more, the Gunners have kept four clean sheets in six matches away from North London, and are averaging almost two goals per game on the road.
That’s better than Manchester City have managed, and it is safe to say that once Arsenal find the same degree of defensive solidity at home, they will be hard to stop.