Arsenal know how it feels to be top of the Premier League table. They spent much of last season there and they are currently top of the pile once again after Saturday’s away win over Brentford. Many argue – with good reason – that the Gunners have yet to hit the heights of last term, but they might be in an even better position now to win the title.
Mikel Arteta’s team are four points worse off this season than they were after the same number of fixtures last season. Indeed, Arsenal had dropped points in just two of their first 13 matches last season, giving them a commanding lead at the top of the table. Ultimately, though, this form proved unsustainable over the full campaign.
This season, Arsenal are grinding out results even when they aren’t playing well. They did this against Brentford on Saturday just as they did against Crystal Palace, Everton and Burnley. Arteta and his players have kept moving forward when they might have stood still in past seasons. This highlights the progress they have made as a team.
Of course, Arsenal can’t do this for the full season. They will have to find top form at some point because Manchester City will almost certainly accelerate towards the finish line, as they do every year. For the time being, though, the Gunners have put themselves in a good position to peak at the right time.
In a soccer sense, Arsenal are certainly stronger than they were last season in terms of personnel. Declan Rice’s Premier League-record transfer to the Emirates Stadium gave the Gunners the dominant number six Artera desired while Kai Havertz is a good depth option in a number of different positions in midfield and attack.
The same could have been said of Jurrien Timber in defence before the Netherlands international suffered a serious injury just 50 minutes into his Premier League debut, but he too will strengthen Arsenal’s squad when he returns at some point next year. Arteta has put a lot of effort into building out his group of players.
“There is depth,” said Arteta. “Obviously it will depend on the injuries that we pick up and where we have that depth because having injuries in certain lines is going to affect you in a way where you don’t have the right replacement. So far we are coping with it and everybody feels really connected and everybody feels that they have a chance and that’s a really positive thing to have in the squad.”
The January transfer window will present Arsenal with another opportunity to strengthen their squad. The Gunners have been linked with a move for long-term target Douglas Luiz from Aston Villa with Ivan Toney also believed to be on their radar. Arteta has been ruthless in his drive to improve his options and that will surely continue into 2024.
Last season, Arsenal expended too much emotional energy in the first half of the season to keep it going all the way until the end of May. This season, Arsenal have still required a number of late winners and comebacks, but there is a greater sense of emotional control about their performances. That could make a difference by the final stretch of the title race.
Arsenal are still a young team. They had the lowest average age of any team in the Premier League last season and youthful exuberance often equates to inconsistency. It says a lot about Arteta as a manager that he has largely managed to iron this out of Arsenal’s results. They are more consistent than is reasonable to expect.
Nonetheless, Manchester City have set an incredible standard at the top of English and European soccer and this is the yardstick against which any rival is measured against. Arsenal came close to bettering Pep Guardiola’s team last season, but this has only further heightened the desire for a Premier League title.
This season’s title race is shaping up to be one of the best in recent times. Just two points separates Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Aston Villa with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United not far behind. More than just the Gunners have their sights set on silverware, but they are the pace-setters and this time they might be able to handle the pace.