Posted on: October 12, 2022, 05:58h.
Last updated on: October 12, 2022, 06:30h.
Nine games into the Premier League season, and Arsenal sits on top of the league. Yes, Arsenal.
This is not an illusion. The Gunners have been transformed by coach Mikel Arteta into a supreme modern soccer team: organized, exciting, packed with individual talent, but swarming, pressing, passing, and rotating as an elite unit.
Unpressable, ball-playing defenders. Inverted full backs. Blistering young wingers. And a guy named Jesus up front who unleashes hellfire on opposition defenses. This is a team without obvious weaknesses.
Arsenal has even developed the kind of aggressive street-smarts so absent in the later Wenger years.
But can this team win the title?
Pep: ‘Better than City’
Whisper it, but for the first time in 16 years, Arsenal is looking like the real deal again. But a realer deal than Manchester City? City, with its giant Norwegian beast of a striker and the superhuman Kevin De Bruyne? City, which is arguably the best team in the world and maybe one of the best ever assembled?
As City manager and Arteta’s former mentor Pep Guardiola said this week, “The reality is that Arsenal have been better than us so far. We are not top of the league.”
The underlying stats confirm that this Arsenal revival is not illusory, like all the other Arsenal revivals before it.
The team’s expected goals (XG) have been better than its opponents in each of the nine games it’s played so far, even in the loss at Manchester United, underlining that the result was unfortunate.
Some commentators have suggested Arsenal might “do a Leicester” this season. It’s a strange comment. Leicester won the league in 2016, having narrowly survived relegation at the end of the season prior. At the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the Foxes were 5,000-1 to win the title.
Arsenal, on the other hand, is a traditional top six side in the third year of a rebuild that has cost £278 million. But such is the perceived dominance of City that it feels like 5,000-1. Arsenal is, in fact, 8-1 to win the title.
The New Liverpool?
It’s more apt to ask “will Arsenal do a Liverpool” – i.e., build a world-class title-winning side without the financial backing of an oil-rich nation state.
That appears to be the plan, but maybe not this year. In all likelihood, Arsenal is competing for second. The squad lacks a little depth. It’s short a goal-scoring winger and a central midfielder.
Additions over summer have improved squad depth, with players who can cover several positions. But lose Thomas Partey and the team drops a level. And the Ghanian, who was unavailable for that sole loss against United, is injury prone.
Arsenal is also the youngest team in the league, with an average age of 23.7, and their inexperience might count this year.
But those players will hit their peak as footballers in two to three years’ time. When that happens, Arsenal will be scary.
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