At the start of the season, it would have taken a brave individual to suggest that Arsenal were genuine title contenders.
Entering their ninth term without a trophy and with no major squad additions other than Mesut Ozil to speak of, the outlook for the Gunners if anything looked decidedly bleak as opposed to prosperous.
Yet barely three months down the line, they sit top of the Premier League, five points clear of second placed Chelsea and without defeat in their last nine league games.
Since overcoming a shock opening day loss to Aston Villa, which had some ready to hammer the final nail into Arsene Wenger’s managerial coffin, the Emirates outfit haven’t looked back, producing some scintillating displays and showing they’re not the soft touch many had started to take them for.
Now, as we enter November, the question that is beginning to be asked is; are Arsenal true title contenders?
On the one hand, with the season still in it’s infancy, to talk about any team winning the league seems a little premature, however, in reflecting upon the North Londoners’ impressive start to the current campaign, it would appear that in fact, yes they are, contenders at least.
However, it is important to be realistic. Aside of Tottenham and Liverpool, both of whom gave only a lukewarm accounts of themselves, both at the Emirates, Wenger’s men are yet to face any of the England’s other top clubs.
That is by no means Arsenal’s fault, they can after all, only beat the opposition they’re up against, but it does make it harder to form a clear picture of the squad’s character when facing more accomplished opposition. Certainly, whilst there may be no ‘easy’ Premier League games, there are without doubt more difficult ones and it is these that are likely to have the defining impact on any title-chasing season.
That is set to change, however, as up next come Manchester United at Old Trafford, with an away trip to Manchester City next month.
Will it then be here, that Arsenal’s title hopes will be realised once and for all? No. But it will definitely provide a more all-encompassing insight into this season’s chances.
This too, can be said of the ongoing exploits of the Gunner’s defence, which has at times looked shaky, after conceding a late winner against Dortmund in the Champions League, and having Mikel Arteta sent off for fouling Crystal Palace’s Marouane Chamakh after the Morrocan speared a counter-attack.
If a challenge for the title is to remain on track, silly errors such as these will need to be eradicated, especially when it comes to facing the bigger sides. A point recently made by Match of the Day’s Alan Hansen.
Hansen similarly questioned the mentality of the Gunners, opining a dip in form would expose an underlying brittle confidence, which would ultimately be their undoing. This assertion, though, was strongly rejected by vice-captain Arteta, though he opted not to mention Hansen’s convicted “you’ll win nothing with kids” statement from some years ago.
It is of course, impossible to predict for sure how any stutter to the current progress made would affect the Arsenal side. But it is not difficult to imagine how the lack of trophy-winning experience in the team could hinder their chances, an issue that will require careful man-management by the hugely experienced Wenger.
A further important factor in Arsenal’s ongoing hunt for a trophy, be it the league title or otherwise, will be the performances of star-signing Mesut Ozil, who’s two goals and four assists in his first seven league games have been an inspiration to teammates and fans alike.
The German international seems to have provided a much needed boost to the potency of the Arsenal front-line, which combined with the form of striker Olivier Giroud, has proven to be a formidable partnership.
But the Gunners impressive form so far has in fact been an ensemble achievement, with players like Wilshere, Szczesny and the sudden emergence of a mature and goal-scoring Aaron Ramsey all similarly playing their part.
In order to continue their good start, all will have to maintain their current levels of performance and do so against the big clubs.
As mentioned before, the season is but young and any talk of titles can at this stage be merely speculative. However, with big fixtures coming up, it is clear that a much more educated assessment will available in the not-too-distant future.
Arsenal fans should, however, remain confident, especially if these challenges can be overcome, that they do in fact have a real chance to end their exile from the winning of silverware.