Off the Mark: Of course Arsenal can win the league… but they’ll need to get lucky
Another week, another impressive Arsenal result, another few days of hearing that they can’t possibly win the league.
The Gunners’ impressive 2-0 victory over Liverpool opened up a five point gap at the top of the table, the kind of advantage that would be described as ‘commanding’ or ‘dominant’ were it being enjoyed by say, a Manchester City or a Chelsea.
But instead there is a sense that everyone is just waiting for Arsene Wenger’s men to slip up, for them to succumb to the same old failings and to fall away from the challenge of what would be a first trophy in nine years.
That might still happen of course, but claiming that Arsenal definitely won’t win the league this season is simply wrong. Of course they can win it.
They have comfortably been the most impressive side in the division during the opening quarter of the campaign, and what’s more they have the points to prove it.
Since the embarrassing 3-1 opening day defeat at home to Aston Villa – a loss which led to some of us calling for the club’s attitude to change – the Gunners have won eight of their nine Premier League matches.
Whilst City and Chelsea – the two clubs that the bookies fancy more for the title than Arsenal – have been losing at places like Cardiff, Villa, Everton and Newcastle, Wenger’s men have plotted a serene course, only dropping points at a West Brom side who were a week on from a win at Old Trafford.
The notion that the table toppers haven’t been seriously tested was put under a decent threat from a Liverpool side who certainly worked hard at the Emirates last Saturday evening, but the manner in which Brendan Rodgers’ men were kept at an arm’s length and eventually brushed aside showed the quality that Arsenal possess, and more importantly the individuals who they have to enforce that.
As we mentioned when discussing Everton recently, squad depth is incredibly important in the Premier League, and a look at Arsenal’s substitutes on Saturday suggests that theirs isn’t the greatest.
Lukasz Fabianski, Thomas Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal, Nicklas Bendtner, Carl Jenkinson, Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden hardly strikes you as the bench of potential champions, especially when you compare it to the riches that Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho can keep in reserve.
Of course that will change for Arsenal when the likes of Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Mathieu Flamini return to full fitness, but right now the Gunners are relying upon their first team to do the business. Luckily for them though, they’ve got one of the best of those in the division.
Wojciech Szczesny is maturing into a fine goalkeeper, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker are a solid unit, Mikel Arteta is a calming influence, Aaron Ramsey might have made some sort of goalscoring pact with the devil, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla are outrageously gifted and Olivier Giroud is a growing, increasingly imposing presence.
Keep those eight fit and healthy and Arsenal are as good as anyone on the continent, never mind the Premier League.
Of course, they are going to require a large slice of luck for that to happen, but any notion that the Gunners ‘can’t’ win the title should be met with a read through that list of players.
This week brings tests away at Borussia Dortmund and then Robin van Persie’s Manchester United, but why spend time worrying about them? Why spend time worrying about anything at the moment?
Arsenal have been superb and fully deserve their place at the top of the Premier League table, a table that they have a fantastic chance to still be at the head of come May.
They just need luck to stay on their very talented side.
Hughton and Jol in a sack race
The fact that Norwich kick off two-and-a-half hours later than Fulham on Saturday could be hugely significant.
Both Martin Jol and Chris Hughton are facing uncertain futures at their clubs, with another defeat at the weekend perhaps proving the final straw.
Jol’s Fulham face the trickier test with their trip to take on a Liverpool side determined to bounce back from the Arsenal loss, and with an international break looming it could be seen as the perfect time to bring in a new man.
It is Norwich though, off the back of their 7-0 mauling at Manchester City, who could be under the most pressure.
Fail to win at home to a solid West Ham outfit in front of a primetime Saturday night audience, and Hughton could be facing some difficult questions.
If Jol loses heavily at Anfield though, those questions will be coming to the Dutchman a little earlier.
Having a Hull of a time
Hull are in the top half, six points clear of the drop zone. In previous years, that’d be enough for Phil Brown to start breaking out in song.
Thankfully those days are long gone now, but Steve Bruce has got plenty to crow about during what has been a very impressive start.
Relegation certainties for many, the Tigers are on the prowl and could be worth backing to get a good result at Southampton this weekend.