Why can’t this be Arsenal’s year to win the league?

Twenty-eight minutes into the game in Brentford, Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale made a through pass to centre-back William Saliba on the right, beginning what would become Arsenal’s side most elegant goal of the season. Brentford are among the more spirited midfield teams and their particular brand of temperament is designed to make life difficult for top teams looking to build complicated attacks and choke their opponents with possession. Teams like Manchester United, who beat the Bees 4-0, or, well, Arsenal. And yet, 13 passes later, after every gunner on the court except Bukayo Saka had a kick, and Gabriel Jesus completed the ingenious team goal with a commanding header. Arsenal ran away with the game, 3-0.

Eight games into the Premier League season and five months into their season-ending debacle that kept them out of the Champions League, it has become clear that Arsenal have turned the corner. They showed all the promise in the world against a relatively soft early schedule and then confirmed it last weekend by smoking Tottenham. The youthful panache that enlivened their resurgent 2021-22 season and ended it on the sourest note has softened to straight-forward excellence, and a string of new arrivals this summer have rounded out a good team into a potentially great one. With Arsenal leading the league after eight games, it’s not too early to ask: why can’t this be Arsenal’s year?

The main improvement Arsenal made last off-season was the signing of Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City. As Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, Jesus himself and Defector Dot Com have said, Jesus plays in a very different way at Arsenal. Pep Guardiola’s tactical rigidity has helped Manchester City develop into one of the best teams in the world, although Jesus has always been an awkward fit, scoring a string of goals and winning a number of silverware, but at a diminished capacity. Now he’s more than just a stationary object attached to the front of an attack. Under Arteta, he was tasked with basically going anywhere he wants on the pitch. Jesus was omnipresent against Spurs, popping up in his own box to retake Richarlison, throwing himself forward at Huge Lloris’ goal and drifting to the side to help build attacks and create space for his midfielders to run into could. He goes through all those races and scores five goals in team strength, which is an impressive indication that his spatial wanderlust and tendency to spend a lot of time outside of goal have sharpened rather than dulled him.

Gabriel Jesus is one of just three newcomers to Arsenal’s top XI, a line-up whose fresh successes with so little turnover speaks both to the promise of the Mikel Arteta plan and to the individual quality of the players. William Saliba signed for the club three years ago when he was 18, although he only returned to London this year after spending three seasons on loan at a trio of improving French clubs. Center forwards and centre-backs were probably Arsenal’s weakest positions over the course of Arteta’s tenure and his de-emeryification of the club. Alex Lacazette was unable to score more goals, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fell out with Arteta and the club were saddled with David Luiz, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi in Arteta’s first season. The team’s youth movement started replacing those slow old farts with Ben White and Gabriel rocking, and now shifting White to the right back (like he’s an American or something) and bringing in Saliba. At just 21, the Frenchman is already one of the best defenders in the league. He’s a consistent, confident passer on the ball and an intelligent, athletic ball hawk on defence. His partnership with Gabriel gives Arsenal one of the most powerful centre-back pairings in the Premier League, while Oleksander Zinchenko essentially gives them another attacking midfielder for the future. It’s Arsenal’s best backline in at least six years and all are aged 21-25, including backup full-backs Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kieran Tierney.

All that youth will leave any Arsenal fan optimistic about the foreseeable future, although it’s not as if they should ignore the present. After all, Arsenal sit at the top of the league, head and shoulders above most of their rivals. Spurs are four points behind, Chelsea eight, United nine and Liverpool eleven. Arsenal’s swing factor of the season will be the degree to which their untried young players can add meaningful depth to them. Fabio Vieira looks like God’s honest truth so far, although showing real promise in the Portuguese league is a far less serious test than stepping in and repeating Martin Odegaard’s quiet excellence. Eddie Nketiah finished last season on a good note and can really move off the ball; to do so when Gabriel Jesus is hurt is a much bigger question. Albert Sambi Lokonga has started to fulfill some of his promises, but it’s still not clear if he can fully fill in Thomas Partey’s footsteps if, for example, he had to miss the time for some reason. If all these guys and maybe even False Marquinhos score, nothing should stop Arsenal from dreaming big. This could be her year.

https://defector.com/why-cant-this-be-arsenals-year-to-win-the-league/ Why can’t this be Arsenal’s year to win the league?

John Verrall

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