THE HALFWAY stage of the Premier League has still to be reached, but Arsenal have the sort of lead that starts to make bookmakers twitchy. Nobody wants to make a strong or loud case for an Arsenal title win, but it is starting to look like a distinct possibility. Going into 2023, the Gunners certainly look the most composed, confident and effervescent team in a season of transition for a lot of top sides. Of course, everyone fears Manchester City and Arsenal have yet to play the reigning champions, but the Guardiola gang have not been at their best on a number of occasions, as their 1-1 draw with Everton over Christmas demonstrated.
Arsenal’s weak spot may be a lack of strength in depth, something City cannot really ever claim to suffer from. Mike Arteta has a very good starting XI and some of the most exciting players in the Premier League in 2022-23, but one or two injuries could derail their title bid. City, to some extent, could have a problem if Erling Haaland picks up a bad injury – he has been brilliant in the goalscoring stakes, but have they become too reliant on him already after one half season? The giant Norwegian has netted 50% of City’s league goals and 27 of the 63 they’ve scored in all competitions.
It is to Arsenal’s credit that their table-topping team, while predominantly bought from other clubs, was constructed for a couple of hundred million pounds less than other big spending clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City. Arsenal’s most impressive player this season, Bukayo Saka, cost them nothing, but they have shown they are getting smarter in the transfer market, as evidenced by the acquisition of Martin Ødegaard (£ 30 million), Gabriel Martinelli (£ 6 million) and Gabriel (£ 27 million). They also signed Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City, paying a total of £ 75 million for the pair.
What has really paid off for Arsenal is patience. Over the past couple of years, Arteta’s future has seemed to change game-by-game, with the doubters calling for his head after some bad results, but equally, his supporters singing his praises after every outstanding performance. Arsenal have benefitted from something of a clear-out, with expensive players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both leaving and their most extravagant signing, Nicolas Pépé, is currently out on loan at Nice, his £ 72 million fee hanging like a millstone around his neck.
If Arsenal were to maintain their form and win the Premier League, it would be good for football. Admittedly, they remain one of the wealthiest clubs in Europe, paying high wages and spending money on new players – since 2021-22 their gross spend has been £ 299 million (net £ 244 million), but they don’t have the resources of a City or Paris Saint-Germain. The difference today is that they seem to be making better, more forward-thinking decisions around player acquisition and, consequently, they have the youngest team in the Premier League with an average age of 24.6 years (Premier average 26.9). They also have one of the most cosmopolitan squads, comprising 72% foreign players. A total of 10 players were involved in the 2022 World Cup across seven different nations, including three England players in Saka, Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White, who mysteriously disappeared mid-tournament.
Arsenal’s roll-call of success
|Year (time lapse)|
|1930 (37)||FA Cup winners|
|1931 (1)||FL Champions|
|1933 (2)||FL Champions|
|1934 (1)||FL Champions|
|1935 (1)||FL Champions|
|1936 (1)||FA Cup winners|
|1938 (2)||FL Champions|
|1948 (10)||FL Champions|
|1950 (2)||FA Cup winners|
|1953 (3)||FL Champions|
|1970 (17)||Inter-Cities Fairs Cup|
|1971 (1)||FL Champions||FA Cup winners|
|1979 (8)||FA Cup winners|
|1987 (8)||FL Cup winners|
|1989 (2)||FL Champions|
|1991 (2)||FL Champions|
|1993 (2)||FA Cup winners||FL Cup winners|
|1994 (1)||ECWC winners|
|1998 (4)||FL Champions||FA Cup winners|
|2002 (4)||FL Champions||FA Cup winners|
|2003 (1)||FA Cup winners|
|2004 (1)||FL Champions|
|2005 (1)||FA Cup winners|
|2014 (9)||FA Cup winners|
|2015 (1)||FA Cup winners|
|2017 (2)||FA Cup winners|
|2020 (3)||FA Cup winners|
The World Cup doesn’t seem to have affected Arsenal’s momentum, judging by their results since the return of Premier League football: a 3-1 home win against West Ham and a 4-2 victory down at Brighton. Naturally, Arteta is refusing to talk about title credentials, but there seems to be a fresh belief at the Emirates that they can end the longest run without a league title since the club started winning silverware in the 1930s. If they manage to beat off the challenge of Manchester City and others who may run into form in the second half of the campaign, it will have been 19 years since their last league title, the famous “invincible” season of 2003-04.
If nothing else, an Arsenal triumph win would prove to the rest of the world that English football is not the property of the middle east – City have won four of the last five Premier titles. Arsenal are one of a group of US-owned clubs that include Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, although the two northern clubs could both change hands in 2024 and become the property of oil states. The US contingent could soon find they are unable to compete with clubs with middle eastern ownership models. Therefore, opportunity has to be grasped when it presents itself for a club like Arsenal (or indeed Chelsea under their new owners).
At the moment, Arsenal have a little scope for error, but City are breathing down their necks and are capable of stringing together long sequences of spectacular results. The Gunners have a vital few weeks ahead of them – they face in-form Newcastle United at the Emirates on January 3, followed by a trip to Tottenham on January 15 and a home game with Manchester United on January 22. By the time they go head-to-head with Manchester City on February 15, everyone will know a little more about Arsenal’s ability to last the pace. At the moment, it looks better than at any time since 2004.