Mikel Arteta has given Arsenal the foundations of a title challenge before World Cup break
Given that Mikel Arteta used to work for Manchester City, he probably isn’t going to get into the advantages that a state-owned club have, but he is all too aware of their power. He has already mentioned how Pep Guardiola has created teams capable of getting 100 points, in a way never seen before. He has also been imploring his Arsenal players of the standard to reach.
This intensity was something that stood out in a commanding victory at Chelsea. It was a classic 1-0 that could have been a 4-0, as Arsenal performed with an intensity that Graham Potter’s couldn’t reach.
This, rather pointedly given the day, was why Arteta got rid of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. This is why he tries so many of those motivational tricks seen in their documentary. This is the benefit of fully backing a manager who has an idea.
Arteta and Arsenal have conditioned and honed a focus that can only come from full commitment to a proper plan. Almost anything that might hold them back has now been stripped away. It is now only about improvement, but the base is there.
The extent of the gap between those two visions – the minimal acceptable level of the team and the complete realization of Arteta’s idea – is what will dictate whether Arsenal can actually keep this up, whether they can put up a full title challenge.
All that can be said for the moment is that they keep passing tests. After a period when it was felt they were in a false position due to a forgiving run of fixtures, they went and beat Tottenham Hotspur at home and then beat Liverpool at home.
They have now shown that defeat at Manchester United need not define them in big away games this season, as they went and dominated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It was one of those that felt significant for reasons beyond the result.
That is summed up by the fact they became the first of the old “big six” this season to win an away game between that group.
It has meant Arsenal currently have an average of 2.62 points this season. That’s a remarkable return after 13 games, but it doesn’t need to be pointed out there’s a big difference between that and 38 games.
This is what Arteta is getting at.
Given their relative shallowness, and given the rigours that come after Christmas, it is obvious that Arsenal aren’t going to maintain that.
That would be an achievement tantamount to a modern football miracle, which is to say it’s impossible.
Their average over the past five seasons is 63.8 points. City’s is 92 points. That is a gap of almost 30 to make up, and even the gap from last season was 24 points. Arsenal are obviously much better now than all of that – but are they that much better, and that’s even before you take in the likely effect of Erling Haaland.
None of this is to criticize Arsenal. It is to their credit they are doing this, and given the scale of their improvement it would also be hasty to completely dismiss the type of Jurgen Klopp-style leap that Liverpool enjoyed.
It’s just, when you take everything in, precedence would appear to make it highly unlikely.
The flip side of that is that this is a season without precedent. We’re about to break for a month. While this has left most managers frustrated, including Arteta, there is an argument it could work in Arsenal’s favour.
It would usually be around Christmas, after all, when the rigours of a season start to get to surprise leaders. The accumulation of games starts to expose depth problems. The lack of experience in such races can start to tell when things get tense.
But, just when we would be coming to that point, Arsenal have been granted a huge break. It might seem an irritation when on such form, but it allows a recharge, both physical and psychological. There’s also the fact that they will have far fewer call-ups and starters at the World Cup than Manchester City.
All of this could have a significant effect. For the moment, we’re fully seeing Arteta’s effect.
It is close to his ideal, and evidently evolving.