It’s been relatively easy for many to discount Arsenal’s excellent start to their Premier League campaign. After all, they lost their first game, the table they currently sit atop is still somewhat topsy-turvy, and consider the relative quality of their opposition thus far. Yet with Tuesday’s authoritative 2-0 win over Napoli in Champions League group play, the Gunners are making the case that they may indeed be the real deal.
The opening day chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” directed at Arsene Wenger during a disastrous 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa suddenly seem a long way off. Since then, the Gunners have put together an unbeaten streak that includes overcoming Fenerbahce in two legs to reach the Champions League group stages, six Premier League wins, a League Cup third round win on penalty kicks, and wins in both of their group stage encounters in the Champions League.
Currently, in addition to sitting two points clear atop the Premier League table, they top their Champions League group, having taken all six points available to them. Perhaps it may be time to start taking this team seriously?
Thus far at least, they’ve managed to pass every test that’s been put before them.
In seasons past, an opening day loss like the one suffered against Villa could’ve sent the Gunners into a downward spiral that would’ve taken until February to put behind them. Yet they seemed to overcome it immediately and it now indeed looks like Wenger was correct when he said it was a mere blip.
In the North London derby at the beginning of September, Arsenal faced a Tottenham who’d spent lavishly, bringing in some of the best young attacking talent on the market. Arsenal, at the time, had only brought in Yaya Sanogo and Mathieu Flamini on free transfers. Yet they managed out a tidy 1-0 victory without much trouble.
Then there was the trip to Istanbul in August to face Fenerbahce for Champions League qualification. Reports in the press indicated that home fans would transform the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium into a teaming “cauldron of hell” for the visiting Gunners. Yet they brushed the Turkish club aside almost casually, to the point where the second leg at the Emirates was little more than a formality.
Next in the Champions League came Ligue 1 runner-ups Marseille, a team many felt would test the mettle of this still rather rag-tag Arsenal side. Again, the Gunners dispensed with their opposition with authority and despite giving up a late penalty, emerged with a 2-1 win on the road.
Tuesday’s clash against Serie A runner-ups Napoli had a bit more bluster about it. After all, this was a side that beat Borussia Dortmund 2-0 in their previous Champions League outing. Perhaps the Gunners got a lucky break with Gonzalo Higuain having to withdraw due to injury prior to kickoff. But again, Arsenal put in a master class of possession football, took their chances, and neatly dispensed with the Italians 2-0.
Thus far, despite having made only one signing of note and being beset by injuries to key players, Arsene Wenger’s side has passed every test set before them.
Certainly they’re paper thin at the moment and an injury to the in-form French striker Olivier Giroud would be practically unthinkable. But as October marches on, Arsenal fans will be able to breath easier as key players like Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, and Lukas Podolski start to find their way back into the lineup.
Still, many feel the real test of the Gunners mettle awaits them on November 10, when they travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. But on current form, one has to ponder the question of which of the two sides will have more to answer for four weeks from now? If both continue their current trajectories, it will certainly be Arsenal who head into the encounter with momentum on their side.
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