To Start Title Talk For Arsenal

This week, Arsenal supporters are elated that the club’s hopes of advancing in Champions League play are, as it turns out, not dashed. The Gunners defeated Bayern Munich 2-0 in London to earn three crucial points and give their UCL campaign a shot in the arm. It was a satisfying and exhilarating match, but frankly the form that Arsenal displayed wasn’t too much of a surprise—and that’s thanks to how well the team has acquitted itself in domestic play.

Nine matches in—roughly a quarter of the way through the season—Arsenal sits at second in the tables, with 19 points amassed through a 6-1-2 record. The Gunners have wins over Manchester United and the surprisingly feisty Leicester City, and they have looked better almost with each passing week. Granted, struggles against quality clubs are a worry. The two losses came against West Ham and Chelsea, though the first was in the opening week and the second was at always-difficult Stamford Bridge. Nonetheless, the form has been intriguingly strong of late, and with neither Manchester City nor Chelsea displaying the dominance of recent years, the EPL feels a little more opened up. And that’s why it may just be time to start talking about a title in North London.

Given the run of frustration Arsenal supporters have endured, it seems somewhat strange to start predicting or talking about such things. But to keep everything in perspective, competing for a championship this season would actually fall into a pretty natural pattern. Arsenal advanced from fourth place in 2012-13 to almost second place a season ago, and looking at how EPL runners-up have fared in the following season in the past 10 seasons, history is on the side of that trajectory continuing. Five of the past 10 runners-up (not counting Arsenal this season) went on to win the league in the following year, and only four finished below second place.

But it can’t all come down to historical trends. They’re a nice indication, and perhaps imply that Premier League teams that get to the cusp of a title tend to do what’s necessary to make the final leap forward. But they have no specific bearing on this year’s team. Fortunately, the team itself is perhaps even more encouraging when it comes to title aspirations. A lot is starting to go right for the Gunners.

For starters, Mesut Ozil is finally starting to make good on his massive salary, lately flashing his best form since joining the EPL. Ozil says Arsene Wenger has given him the confidence to succeed, and a goal in the Bayern match was just the latest clue that he’s beginning to feel more comfortable in London. The German midfielder’s talent has never been on trial. However, should he suddenly become the player Arsenal thought it purchased initially, it will go a long way toward turning the Gunners into legitimate favourites.

Similarly, Alexis Sanchez is coming into his own, having scored six goals in nine matches to date. Sanchez has not been as much of a disappointment as Ozil before this season by any stretch, and he was a strong contributor for the most part last season as well. But if he continues scoring at his current rate, he’ll really be maximising his potential and delivering in a major way for Wenger’s attack.

Perhaps most interestingly, Olivier Giroud appears to be transitioning nicely into a different role. Giroud functioned as the super sub in the Bayern match, and whether or not he continues to come off the bench, he’s proven that he can thrive as more of a supporting scorer. Too often in past years the attack has taken on a Giroud-or-bust look, and frankly he’s just not that type of player. But as a goal-scoring threat to complement Sanchez, or to replace Theo Walcott off the bench later in games, he’s already proving to be a very deadly weapon. The attack simply looks more dynamic this season.

More than anything, though, it’s the consistency that all of these factors are adding up to that’s giving 2015-16 a different feel for Arsenal supporters. Goalkeeping and defence have improved, offense is more reliable, and thus far injuries have been less of a concern than in recent seasons. There’s a long way to go, but we should start looking at this year’s Gunners as true title contenders and not just a strong club vying for a top-four spot.

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