It’s not vintage Arsenal, but post-World Cup push to Premier League glory can’t be ruled out
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Whether it was George Graham’s dogged and disciplined side of the early-1990s, Arsene Wenger’s double-winners or the Invincibles of 2003/04, Arsenal have been one of the true powerhouses of the Premier League era.
With the league now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Gunners are one of only seven clubs to have lifted the champions trophy after topping the table three times in six seasons between 1998 and 2004. But it hasn’t always been rosy in the Gunners’ garden, despite Wenger and current manager Mikel Arteta delivering a further five FA Cup wins since the club last topped a Premier League table 18 years ago.
There has been disharmony in the boardroom, a move to the quite stunning Emirates Stadium that forced a rethink in the transfer market as funds were spent elsewhere, and Wenger’s managerial reign that seemed to extend beyond its natural life, as the club allowed what felt like an annual venture into the Champions League slip out of their grasp.
First and foremost, Mikel Arteta will hope to restore Arsenal to European football’s premier cup competition after a six-year absence. But the big prize, a first Premier League title in almost two decades, suddenly looks a realistic option after the Gunners have made a stunning start to the season.
It is too early to compare the current crop of Arsenal stars to those of their golden eras of years gone by. It would not be a stretch to suggest the likes of Tony Adams, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry would instantly command a place in Arteta’s side and would be without question key players in his setup.
We will all remember how the strict defensive performances under George Graham led to success as ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ rang out around Highbury. And how could we possible forget the rejuvenation of fortunes under Wenger? Inspired by the brilliant Bergkamp, sprinkled by the magic of the hypnotic Henry and led by the vivacious Vieira, the Arsenal vintage of the early part of the millennium were to be admired and feared in equal measures. But what of the men now wearing the famous red and white shirts?
With all focus now on events at the World Cup Finals, Arteta’s men are sat five points clear at the top of the table as the fearless approach of the likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus has led to just one defeat in their opening 14 games of the campaign.
Let’s get one thing clear, this is not one of the ‘great’ Arsenal sides, not yet anyway. But Arteta does deserve great credit for the patience, attention to detail and focus he has shown in putting in place the foundations that could lead to the creation of something special at the Emirates Stadium.
For the first time in a long time, Arsenal possess a strong defensive unit, with goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale growing in stature with every passing week and the likes of Ben White, Gabriel and William Saliba impressing with their consistent performances. Granit Xhaka’s renaissance continues with improved maturity and responsibility bringing out the best in the Swiss midfielder and Martin Odegaard is delivering on the hype that surrounded him during his time as a youngster trying to break through at Real Madrid.
You still get the feeling this Arsenal may be vulnerable at times, but the vibrancy of their attacking play overshadows any possible shortcomings. The addition of Gabriel Jesus has been a masterstroke and the Brazilian has a wonderful habit of still producing for the team, even if he is not finding the back of the net on a regular basis, just as he was in the early weeks of the season.
The exuberance and quality provided in wide positions by the ever-improving Saka and Martinelli has played a lead role in leading the Gunners into pole position and the duo have become increasingly influential as the first half of a unique season approached its conclusion.
There could be a fear that the World Cup break may hamper the momentum built up by wins against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Chelsea and Nottingham Forest - but the recent release of the ‘All or Nothing’ showed Arteta feels just as ‘at home’ on the training pitch as he does in the technical area.
A graceful yet gritty midfielder during his playing career, the Spaniard has shown similar qualities as a coach as he has moved on from a challenging conclusion to last season when his side wilted in the heat provided on and off the pitch by Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur. His unique approach to coaching is paying off and although a whole host of his players are in action in Qatar, those left behind will no doubt benefit from time on the training pitch working under their manager and his coaching staff.
Arsenal will run something of a gauntlet upon their return to Premier League action, with the Boxing Day home clash with West Ham United preceding a run of five games in eight against sides currently sat in the top eight of the table. We will learn more about the new Arsenal once that run comes to a conclusion and discover just how realistic they can consider their bid for the Premier League to be.