Bear with me.
Liverpool and Manchester City may appear streets ahead of everyone else in the Premier League but in their 0-0 draw at Anfield yesterday there was a lack of cutting edge and verve. They cancelled each other out, Liverpool with a much sterner defensive line than last season and City with mistakes having been learned from the defeats suffered at the hands of the Reds in the first half of this year.
The same could not be said of Arsenal and maybe, whisper it quietly, they may have found a system to genuinely compete not just for the top four but the title itself.
It is early days and two months ago they’d suffered back-to-back defeats to start the season, against City first and Chelsea second. In both they were second best but at that time, Unai Emery was still finding his feet and the team sheets were experimental. Not so now.
Against Fulham and particularly after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was introduced for Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey for Alex Iwobi, they were irresistible, scoring the team goal of the season so far, finisded off by Ramsey. Two more followed for Aubameyang as they drubbed the Cottagers 5-1.
Fulham have the worst defensive record in the league to date and getting too carried away would be fruitless. They’ve won nine on the bounce, a fine run, but their toughest assignment in that period was a home game against Watford, who have since slipped to mid-table.
There is no reason that run may not continue until November. League games against Leicester and Crystal Palace precede a home tie with Liverpool, by which time they may be the ones with greater momentum.
The biggest worry remains their defence. Mustafi and Holding will not be a championship-winning pairing but get a marquee signing in January as a statement of intent, and keep Lacazette and Aubameyang firing, and there could be something formidable rising from the North Londoners’ ashes.
Outside of teams in the top six of the Premier League and Arsenal have win every game this season. That will be Unai Emery’s acid test, points against the big sides. It is where Arsenal, in the second half of Arsene Wenger’s tenure, so often came up short.
Unlike at Tottenham and even Manchester United to an extent, trophies will not be the measure of Emery. Arsenal have won a few of those in recent years but have not sustained an assault on the summit for thirty-eight games since the Invincibles stunned the world in 2004. That’s fourteen years, fifteen if they have four points to make up come the second week in May.
Based on this weekend’s performances, there is actually a chance it may happen. City cannot possibly be as good as last year and Liverpool are not as ruthless up front, if better defensively.
Based on recent history, the Gunners will lose at home to Leicester next time out. Yet, it cannot be denied that Arsenal were more impressive than any Premier League side yesterday. Maybe now is the time. Far stranger things have happened.