Arsenal might actually win this thing

there me me Which revolves around Arsenal Twitter whenever the Gunners start to do well. It’s a portrait of a young man in a red Arsenal kit, leaning on his back with a hesitant smile that belies deep concern, with the text “You know, as an Arsenal fan, it’s hope that kills you.”

This is the attitude the Gooners have adopted for nearly the past two decades, ever since Arsenal last won the Premier League in 2004. Back then, promising young teams soured, and prospective stars opted for greener pastures – often He scoffs at the idea From playing for a North London team – and the cheerleading eventually came to an agonizing end.

So when the full-time whistle blew on Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur, as Arsenal cruised to a 2-0 victory over arch-rivals and moved eight points clear at the top of the table, it was hard for some fans not to feel the celebrations. a little silent. Yes, teams don’t generally miss out on the Premier League title by a point of this magnitude late in the season. But surely the big bad wolf lurking in the blue half of Manchester or, hell, even the rejuvenated United team that shares the city would dash those hopes.

How did we get here? A team whose season crumbled before their eyes last year and I watched footage of that decline all over the world in the… All or nothing documentary He shouldn’t be able to start this season. A team that has the youngest squad in the Premier League and its captain at 24 and only in his second full season with the club shouldn’t pull it off. A team that includes a manager, despite being a cult hero as a club player, in his first senior managerial role, should not be able to go on like this.

But after 18 matches this season, Arsenal were the favorites to be crowned champions.

There is no single reason for Arsenal’s run, and there is no shortage of excuses for rival teams and fans to point to. The 2022 World Cup has shattered teams’ schedules and volleys across Europe, just as many of England’s so-called Big Six were struggling to create or rediscover an identity. Injuries, both prior to and as a result of the World Cup, continue to devastate key players in the league.

But many of these problems also affected Arsenal. Arsenal sent several players to the World Cup and watched their first striker, Gabriel Jesus, suffer a season-ending injury in Qatar. What has separated Arsenal from the group so far is an almost dogmatic belief in the philosophies of manager Mikel Arteta. Several young players have stepped up and gone on to build impressive 2021-22 campaigns, and the team refuses to back down in situations where it has stumbled before.

Any conversation about the hot start to the season has to start with the three attacking players who lead Arsenal’s line (apologies to Eddie Nketiah, who has been excellent so far but hasn’t had enough time in the first team to be included in this trio).

Bukayo Saka has been a sensation on the right since he first showed promise in the 2020-21 season. His ability to mix clever dribbling, crafty cuts and laser-guided shots helped him become a mainstay in both Arsenal and England starting in the starting line-up and was named England’s Player of the Year in 2022. The team simply cannot function without him, which is why in every Once he’s pushed to the ground, the collective gasps of Arsenal’s millions of fans are heard praying he’s okay. His six goals and seven assists in the league so far have been pivotal, and his production will continue as Jesus recovers from his knee injury.

Another striker who helped propel Arsenal to the title was Gabriel Martinelli, who was equally impressive, although less famous. He continues to confuse defenders with his changes of pace and ability to cut right through the opposition defence. His partnership with left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko was a big bright spot for Arsenal. Martinelli’s direct running allows Zinchenko to run across the field, creating new passing lanes and overloading opposing midfielders with intelligent interplay.

And of course, there’s the magician in the middle of it all: Martin Odegaard. Many fans thought it was a bit strange when the young Norwegian was appointed captain in July, but he has proven invaluable this season.

If you check out a set of Odegaard The best passes This season (go ahead, I’ll wait), it’s going to be easy to make lazy comparisons to Mesut Ozil. This hurts both players. Ozil has been fantastic during most of his time with Arsenal, but the Norwegian moves around the pitch differently. While Ozil often annoyed fans with his seemingly flabby technique, he often made up for it by popping into the right area and distributing the ball like a world-class playmaker. Odegaard certainly brings similar passing vision, but he also shows a willingness to drive into the teeth of defense and fall back when needed. And while the shooter can be indecisive — you can almost see the gears turning in his mind before he fires a shot — he makes it count when he commits it. Many of his targets are not unstoppable explosions, but rather precision shots where no one can stop them. Take a look at His goal against Tottenham He doubled Arsenal’s lead on Sunday. You could argue Hugo Lloris could have done better, but not many goalkeepers stop a shot deep into the corner.

Odegaard is the straw that stirs the drink, and his brilliance is one of the biggest reasons Arsenal are so far up the table.

There are many other stories worth exploring in this Arsenal squad: Granit Xhaka looking like a brand new player after looking like he might have gone last summer, the centre-back partnership of William Saliba and Gabriel, Aaron Ramsdale playing like the league’s top five goalkeeper, Ben White made the transition from defense to fullback look easy.

Add it all to Arteta’s vision of how this team should operate, with players all over the field who can change position, press deep into the opposition half, force fouls from the opposition, and it becomes easy to overlook all the ridiculous motivational tactics and… Team talks.

But rest assured, this one can fall apart. Arsenal rarely change their starting line-up in the Premier League because they lack many positions, mostly in the forward and defensive midfield positions. What would happen if there were more injuries or players simply out of shape? A difficult series of matches awaits the next visit from Manchester United, who won five consecutive league titles and were the only team to beat Arsenal so far. This was followed by a simple test against Manchester City in the FA Cup fourth round and a banana slip match against second-placed Everton, who beat Arsenal late last season even as Everton were avoiding relegation. Then there are home games against surprisingly good Brentford, and City again. These games should tell us where the team really is.

But enough doomsday talk: Arsenal are nearly halfway through the Premier League season and appear to be real title contenders for the first time since Leicester won the title in 2016. Arsenal finished second that year. What much of the footballing world saw as a celebration of defying near-impossible odds and achieving an extremely rare par compounded the Gooners’ desperation, as their chance of winning the league for the first time in a decade slipped away.

Now Arsenal sit comfortably in first place with half a season remaining. It is difficult to remove the suspicions that have permeated the club for a generation. But for the first time in a while, hope is starting to seep through the cracks. We’ll see if he stays by the time the champion is crowned in May.

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