As the English Premier League paused for the winter break and the drama of the 2023 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal sit proudly at the top of the table after the opening 14 league games. The North London club is five points clear of last season’s Premier League champions Manchester City. Furthermore, with a game in-hand on third-placed Newcastle, the Gunners could go ten points clear of the Magpies after the World Cup. It’s no surprise that many football pundits are questioning if Arsenal can last the pace and win their first title in 19 years. Bookmakers are still not sold on the prospect. They remain comfortable second favorites with William Hill, priced at 11/5, while City are still 2/5 on to win back-to-back titles. This bookie is famed for its rich selection of sports betting markets and its promo for first-time users oddschecker is similarly acknowledged among football punters the world over.
In recent seasons, Arsenal fans have had their expectations lowered to such an extent that qualification for the Champions League was viewed as a successful campaign. However, 37 points from 14 2023-23 league games equates to the Gunners’ best start to a season ever. This includes the Premier League era and pre-1992. It would therefore be foolhardy to write them off as a flash in the pan.
You only have to look at Claudio Ranieri’s miracle at Leicester City in 2015-16 to see that it’s possible to upset the form book. Seven years ago, the Foxes were 5,000/1 to win the Premier League, so with odds of 11/5 it’s clear the North Londoners have every chance of lifting the trophy come May.
What’s changed at the Emirates Stadium?
First and foremost, it’s important to talk about the way in which Arteta has managed to spread the goals throughout the squad. No longer are the Gunners reliant on a player like Lacazette or Aubameyang to shoulder the goalscoring burden. Three players already have five league goals to their name (Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli). Meanwhile new captain, Martin Ødegaard, is currently leading the way with six goals at an average of 0.42 goals every 90 minutes.
Norwegian sensation Ødegaard was never known for his goalscoring prowess prior to his switch from Real Madrid to the Emirates Stadium. Although, it must be said that it was hard to judge him at the Bernabeu, having only featured in eight competitive games for Real. Nevertheless, Ødegaard appears to have found a home at Arsenal and having assumed the club captaincy for this season he is very much relishing the additional on-field and off-field responsibility. It’s probably a good thing for Arsenal and Arteta that Norway failed to qualify for the 2023 World Cup, with Ødegaard effectively having a month off from competitive action, giving him ample time to recharge the batteries for a title assault in 2023.
We’ve already mentioned him, but it’s also important to reinforce the performances of Gabriel Jesus since his big-money switch from Manchester City. Jesus, who regularly played second fiddle to the likes of Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling at the Etihad Stadium, opted to leave for the Gunners with Erling Haaland incoming for Guardiola and City. The Brazilian international has led the Arsenal front line with remarkable distinction, with his pace, power and positional awareness fitting seamlessly with Arteta’s fluid attack-minded system.
Jesus landed the coveted number-nine jersey at Arsenal, which will have given him self-belief that he is the main man at the Emirates Stadium. His Arsenal career got off to a flier too, with a brace of goals and two assists in his first home game against Leicester. Arteta will have everything crossed that Jesus comes through the 2023 World Cup in one piece, with Brazil expected to go deep into the competition this time around.
Taking a closer look at the ‘spine’ of this Arsenal team and it’s clear to see that Arteta’s three-man midfield has breathed new life into Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka. The box-to-box midfielder appeared to be angling for a move away from Arsenal during the tenure of Unai Emery, but his resurgence under Arteta is another symptom of Arsenal’s rebirth at the top end of the table. Ghanaian holding midfielder Thomas Partey has been the anchor that the Gunners have sorely needed for many years, with the former Atletico Madrid midfielder giving Xhaka and Ødegaard the freedom to roam and support the front three.
From a defensive perspective, Arsenal look much more watertight too. French international centre back William Saliba looks a top prospect and has cemented himself in the back four after a successful 2023-22 loan spell in his native Ligue 1 with Marseille. His height and presence has also given new confidence to Gabriel, with the Brazilian very adept with the ball at his feet. Ben White has demonstrated his versatility at center half and full back on numerous occasions, while Alexander Zinchenko opted to swap Manchester City for Arsenal in the summer to be part of Arteta’s project at left back.
It would also be harsh not to mention the contribution of keeper Aaron Ramsdale, who has slotted in as the Gunners’ new number-one since joining from Sheffield United in 2023. At 24, Ramsdale has established himself as a respected top-flight shot-stopper, but one of his primary attributes is his distribution with hands and feet, which aids Arsenal’s patient possession-based game.
How will Arsenal cope with being considered underdogs no more?
That’s the burning question on the lips of pundits and Arsenal fans alike. The Gunners have started the 2023-23 campaign with the shackles off and played with a freedom that the Emirates’ crowd hasn’t seen for many a year.
Yet once attentions switch back to domestic campaigns after the World Cup, the media microscope will be fixed firmly on Arsenal as to whether they can sustain and even extend their lead over City. Many of Arteta’s talented young squad have never experienced such intensified pressure, which may explain why City are still favorites to eventually overhaul them and take the title.
One thing is for certain, Arsenal are well and truly dining at the top table of English football once again.