“Let’s see where they are when they’ve played the top sides.”
“Let’s see how they are without Jesus.”
“Let’s see where they are after January.”
It may be time for the doubters to simply admit: Arsenal (5/4) could genuinely win the title, and despite an upcoming fixture list reading Newcastle (h), Tottenham (a) and Manchester United (h), bet365 have priced the Gunners up at 11/2 to win all three.
Mikel Arteta’s men did have a very gentle start to the season with their first five fixtures reading Crystal Palace (a), Leicester (h), Bournemouth (a), Fulham (a), Aston Villa (h), but they won all five.
The first real test came against a resurgent Manchester United. The Gunners fell short and could have few complaints about the manner of the defeat, and the question marks were back.
An impressive 3-0 win at Brentford was the perfect way to bounce back, but their toughest spell of the season was around the corner, with two home games with Tottenham and Liverpool before a trip to Elland Road.
The Gunners came through all three and were suddenly four points clear at the top having won nine out of their first 10 games.
A disappointing draw at Southampton was followed up with three successive wins, including one at Stamford Bridge, with the World Cup the most unwelcome of interruptions.
Not only did Arsenal risk losing their momentum, but they also lost Gabriel Jesus, who, despite only scoring five goals in 14 games, had been a tremendous influence on the Gunners’ style of play.
This would present Arsenal’s second big test, not so much in terms of their fixture list, but how they would respond to losing a key player.
But it was as if Arsenal have been preparing for this eventuality all season. Despite being 1-0 down at the break to West Ham, the Gunners put three past David Moyes’s side before another comfortable win on the south coast against Brighton.
The next few weeks undoubtedly presents Arsenal’s toughest test so far, however.
While they deserve credit for their wins over Spurs and Liverpool, they’ve only played one of the Premier League’s current top four – and that was a 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford.
Newcastle aren’t there by chance, and while there’s the opportunity for revenge, you do wonder how much last season’s collapse at St James’ Park will be in their heads. It was a heartbreaking end to the season, but in front of their own fans, Arsenal must be confident of a win, which can be backed at 4/5.
After the break for the FA Cup where Arsenal travel to Oxford, presenting the opportunity to rest their key players, comes the short trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Bizarrely – or perhaps not – Arsenal are currently to win – only a fraction bigger than they are to beat Newcastle at home; a sign of both how good Newcastle have been this season and how poor Tottenham have been.
But make no mistake, Tottenham will be desperate to deny Arsenal; their fans are even suggesting in jest that City need to bolster their front line and ought to sign Harry Kane.
One assumes it’s in jest anyway…
If you’re an Arsenal fan you’re probably rubbing your head thinking ‘how are we not favourites for the title when we’re seven points clear?’
If you’re Mikel Arteta, however, you’re probably happy not to have the tag despite such a brilliant start ahead of what looks the biggest test of their season to date over the next three games.
- bet365's Steve Freeth
Then comes the chance to avenge their only defeat of the season against Manchester United.
The Red Devils have been one of the most improved teams this season and look a completely different side to the one that started the season with back-to-back defeats to Brighton and Brentford. In fact, since those two games, United have taken more points than Manchester City despite the 6-3 reverse at the Etihad, and only Arsenal have picked up more points.
Since the meek 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa under new boss Unai Emery in which Cristiano Ronaldo was given the armband – incidentally his final game for the club – United won dramatically at Fulham before breezing past Nottingham Forest and requiring sub Marcus Rashford to pop up with a winner against Wolves.
So, how will the Gunners fare in January? If you fancy the worst to happen to Arteta’s men and they lose all three games, that can be backed at 25/1, while 1-4 points is 11/8.
5-7 points is available at 10/11, and a perfect nine out of nine is available at 11/2.
Three more wins to extend their run to eight looks a tough ask, but Arsenal must feel they have nothing to fear in any of those games, and if they can maintain their lead over Manchester City or – whisper it – extend their lead by the end of January, they may well be favourites for the title.