Arsenal are now a firm contender for the Premier League title, and it would be foolish not to take Mikel Arteta’s side seriously.

At the beginning of the 2022/23 season, Arsenal were probably the best side in England and potentially even in the top five leagues. Mikel Arteta, powered by a renewed vigour to take the Gunners to the very top, mounted an unthinkable title challenge, which faltered as many had predicted in the end.

Was it the character of that young side that prevented them from going over the line, or were Manchester City the ultimate rivals that never feared Arsenal would take over their reign? There are other reasons, like injury to key players and loss of form in others. But truthfully, that side lacked something inexplicable, which took them away from the title.

Arteta was wise enough to address those and use the transfer market smartly to bring in the likes of Kai Havertz, Declan Rice, and Jurrien Timber. Arsenal fans have been wondering what it would have been had the latter not picked up that serious injury at the start. In any case, the way the Gunners have dealt without him is pretty admirable, and there is a possibility the Dutchman can return soon.

Meanwhile, Rice has been a revelation, as barely any Arsenal fan has missed the imperious Thomas Partey, who has not featured much this season. Then again, Arteta had this vision of having a team inclusive of Partey and Timber, which would have made the Gunners look like an ultra-physical side to compete for honours.

Everyone expected Arsenal to perform in the same way they did for most parts of last season, which included early goals, fluid attacking play, and probably a leaky defence. However, Arteta has set out to play somewhat differently, as the Gunners had been more resilient at the back but needed more attacking efficiency for so long.

Yet, the last five games since the turn of the year have shown us a completely different picture of what Arsenal are planning. 21 goals in those five games, with only two conceded, shows there is a new twist in the tale at Arsenal, and they are prepared better than ever to compete for the title.

There has been a persistent theme with all contenders this season, where each of Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal have had periods of slump. The other two are showing signs that they are ready to put in a concerted run for the remainder of the season, and now Arsenal appear like they, too, are set for the same.

Manchester City’s draw at Chelsea showed there is a lot to play for, as the result opened up new avenues for Arsenal and Liverpool. Should Pep Guardiola’s side win their game in hand, they will be only a point above Arsenal in second, which is incredible considering only 13 games are left in the season.

For Arsenal fans, it is imperative not to see where they are on the table and instead remain focused on how close Arteta’s side are to the top two. The race is wide open as things stand, and here we look at why the Gunners are ready and set to wage war on their title rivals, as they have a firm chance to win it this season.

Defensive resilience key to Arteta’s plan

Last season, Arsenal conceded 43 goals to Manchester City’s 33. No team in the history of the Premier League have won the title letting that many, and the Gunners certainly did not deserve the championship based on those stats alone.

It must have played heavily on Arterta’s mind in the close season and is a big reason why Timber arrived in the summer. The manager had a clear idea of how to use the Dutchman, with early signs showing his position as a left-back rather than his preferred position centrally or even on the right flank.

Despite Timber’s early season knee injury and the fact that Arteta was left with the same defensive setup as last season, the arrival of Rice and a tweak in the setup has brought about defensive resilience at the back, which has made Arsenal the best side in the division in that respect.

Arsenal are barely allowing big chances or shots on target. In the game at home against Manchester City, William Saliba and Gabriel Jesus kept Erling Haaland awfully quiet and allowed Pep Guardiola’s side only a solitary effort on target.

They repeated that trick against Liverpool and then against West Ham United, while Burnley registered no shots on target at the weekend. In those three games, Arsenal have shown a different level of defensive security, and with some critical stars like Timber and Thomas Partey set to return, those numbers could further improve.

For a title-contending side like Arsenal, those aspects of their game will prove crucial. Arteta will hope he can keep everyone fit, with Jakub Kiwior also performing well to give the Spaniard a new option to consider. Should Arsenal keep its defensive shape and numbers, it has a significant chance of winning the title, as it is currently the best defensive side in the division.

Arsenal have found their attacking fluidity

Not that there were any complaints about Arsenal not being able to create chances, but more scrutiny was directed at their ability to finish those chances. The loss to West Ham United at the end of December exposed those problems, as the Gunners created multiple clear-cut chances without finding the ability to finish them.

Those issues only fuelled talk of immediately needing a prolific No.9, which added to the pressure on Mikel Arteta to find a solution in January. The need for a new centre-forward got highlighted again when the Gunners lost at home to Liverpool in the FA Cup, at which point nobody would have envisaged what they would do next.

Not only have Arsenal won their first five games of a calendar year, but they have done so in some style. With 21 goals on board in those games combined, the talk of a new striker has died down, as Arteta has brought about the attacking fluidity his team are known for.

The division of goals among every attacking player has been superb, and there are some players in particular showing excellent form. The likes of Leandro Trossard, Kai Havertz and Bukayo Saka are all contributing, while Martin Odegaard is operating at a very high level alongside Gabriel Martinelli.

Arsenal still have Emile Smith Rowe to fire his guns fully, and Arteta would want his side to finish off games early so as to help some fringe stars with essential minutes. In all, the Gunners are now showing promising signs they can keep up their level for the remainder of the season and in the Champions League to give the team a chance to fight for all titles remaining.

Return of injured stars to boost Arsenal’s chances

Arsenal may have won with a 6-0 and 5-0 scoreline against West Ham United and Burnley, respectively. But they still need a host of key stars and are thin in many areas of the pitch. Gabriel Jesus is an important attacker, and so are Oleksandr Zinchenko and Takehiro Tomiyasu in defence.

Thomas Partey’s importance is quite underrated, and if Jurrien Timber returns, he will add a massive layer to their setup in the final run-in for Arsenal. Arteta mentioned that many of those are very close to making a comeback, including Fabio Vieira, which could add a massive boost to their chances.

These returning players will see Arsenal have a quality bench and depth to call upon when needed. Their presence also allows Arteta to rotate at times and juggle between the Premier League and the Champions League without reducing the quality of his side.

Fans are overly keen to see Partey and Rice play together in midfield. At the same time, the excellent form of Kiwior and Zinchenko only makes Timber’s potential return a bonus of sorts for Arteta. In any case, should all the players get back to fitness, Arsenal will have a strong enough squad to fight on all fronts and have a chance to win both titles in May.

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