The Gunners have a great chance to earn themselves a Champions League for the first time since 2017
You could be forgiven for thinking Arsenal had started the season in dreadful fashion, such was the reaction to the 1-1 draw at Manchester United on Monday night.
Yet that point, only the fifth Arsenal had secured at Old Trafford since 2006, was enough to move Unai Emery’s side up to fourth in the Premier League.
And victory at home to Bournemouth on Sunday will be enough to send the Gunners into the international break sitting third after Leicester fell to Liverpool and West Ham surprisingly lost to Crystal Palace on Saturday.
So what is there to worry about? Surely all should be pretty rosy in the Emirates garden right now?
Well, the big issue is Emery himself. As a coach, he continues to divide opinion with frustration centring around his perceived negative mindset and the way he sets his teams up.
On Monday night for example, Arsenal fans believed they never had a better chance of ending their 16-year wait for a league win at Old Trafford and they felt Emery’s midfield selection wasted the opportunity.
With Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi all selected there was a lack of a genuine link man between the midfield and the attack, leaving the forwards isolated.
An underperforming and low-scoring United side were viewed as there for the taking, but some supporters felt Emery left them off the hook by not going on the attack.
It’s a criticism often levelled at the Spaniard, who has also drawn the ire of fans with his treatment of playmaker Mesut Ozil and his decision to appoint Xhaka as club captain. The underwhelming way that Arsenal ended last season also remains fresh in everyone’s minds.
But the mood should not be one of doom and gloom at the Emirates. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to be positive as the league slowly begins to take shape.
Arsenal have a good chance of heading into the second international break of the season in the third spot after eight games, and that’s having already played United and Liverpool away and Spurs at home.
They have lost just once in all competitions, at Anfield, and have gone through the opening months of the campaign missing several key players.
But that is all now beginning to change. On Thursday night both Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin started a game together for the first time, with the latter starting his first game since he ruptured the cruciate ligament in his left knee during the 2-0 win against Chelsea in January.
Both played the full 90 minutes, with summer signing Tierney making a massive impression at left-back, just as he did on his debut a week earlier when Nottingham Forest visited the Emirates in the Carabao Cup.
The defence has been a big worry once again this season, with Arsenal having already conceded 11 league goals in just seven games. The only clean sheet came at Newcastle on the opening weekend.
But Bellerin and Tierney will improve the back four immensely, while also providing the type of attacking quality from full-back that has been lacking in recent months. Tierney has looked a major threat in his first two appearances. The Scotland international already has one assist and is unlucky not to have more, such has been the quality of his delivery from out wide.
Then you also have the return of Rob Holding to add into the mix. The 24-year-old was arguably Arsenal’s best centre-back before his knee injury last December and is now back and ready to put pressure on Sokratis and David Luiz.
“We have been pushing each other in the last couple of weeks training as to who is going to perform better and who is going to play there,” said Holding.
“It is about putting pressure on the two lads [currently starting]. We will see what the manager does. It is good problem for him to have.”
There is competition wherever you look in Arsenal’s squad now. The recent wins in the Europa League and Carabao Cup have shown how good the young talent is that is trying to muscle its way into the first-team picture.
There was a worry that there was no cover for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, but Gabriel Martinelli has shown he is more than capable of scoring goals by netting four in two games against Nottingham Forest and Standard Liege.
His two finishes against Liege on Thursday night belied his lack of experience at the top level. The 18-year-old from Brazil looks a natural finisher and is ready to make his mark.
Bukayo Saka has already forced his way into the Premier League starting XI while Joe Willock is banging on the door having now scored three goals in nine games this season – only Aubameyang and Martinelli have scored more.
Arsenal have an exciting group of youngsters who are ready to make an impact at the top level and there is clearly a lot more to come from club-record signing Nicolas Pepe, who hasn’t even started to show the type of former that convinced the Gunners to part with £72 million to bring him in from Lille in the summer.
The race for the top four is wide open this season. The top two has already been decided, that much is clear – but take City and Liverpool out of the equation and all is there to play for.
Spurs, humbled 7-2 at home by Bayern Munich and 3-0 away to Brighton this week, have clear problems while Chelsea look like a team that will struggle for goals and consistency this season. Manchester United, meanwhile, appear to be miles off being able to mount a top-four bid. Right now, Leicester look the strongest of all the other sides.
Arsenal have a great opportunity get themselves back into the Champions League this season and the next couple of months could be key. After playing Bournemouth this weekend, they head into the international break and when they return they have a very favourable run of fixtures leading up to the beginning of the festive period.
Between now and mid-December, Arsenal play Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Wolves, Southampton and Brighton at the Emirates and travel to Sheffield United, Leicester, Norwich and West Ham. That’s a run of games that should generate a decent points return.
Should that happen, Emery’s side will have a put themselves in a very strong position ahead of the turn of the year.
The battle for the top four will be a long one. City and Liverpool will no doubt be the top two, but Arsenal have a real opportunity to be the best of the rest this year.
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