Do Arsenal have the depth to go for the title?

“Nobody expected this”. Even manager Mikel Arteta is surprised at Arsenal’s Premier League season so far.

The Gunners have secured top spot of the Premier League over the Christmas period for the first time since 2007. A points tally of 37 points from a possible 42 is their best ever start to any top-flight season. All of the previous teams to have amassed the same points tally have gone on to win the title.

Not even their biggest critics can deny that Arsenal are now title contenders, but the question on everyone’s lips is ‘can they maintain this excellent start after Christmas?’

Those critics will point towards ‘no’ due to the topic of squad depth. “The difference between Manchester City and Arsenal is that City can lose a few players and play exactly the same way and can afford to rotate,” said Sky Sports pundit Micah Richards in October.

“If Arsenal lose Gabriel Jesus, an Oleksandr Zinchenko or a Thomas Partey, all of a sudden they become a different team.”

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Wolves against Arsenal in the Premier League.

After all, a lack of squad depth derailed Arsenal’s end to last season. The loss of Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney in the spring meant Arteta juggled his back-up options at left-back and central midfield.

Arteta could not decide between Granit Xhaka, Cedric Soares or Nuno Tavares to replace Tierney, indecision which created inconsistency and instability. The Arsenal manager also went with Albert Sambi Lokonga as Partey’s back-up before dropping him for Mohamed Elneny after poor performances. In the first three games after Partey and Tierney’s injuries, Arsenal lost three games on the bounce.

It is clear that Arsenal have a preferred starting eleven under Arteta this season. The Gunners have played the same line-up in their first three games of the campaign, the north London derby victory over Tottenham and the last two games before the World Cup break. When everyone is available, that is Arteta’s strongest and most trusted team.

But last season, the Arsenal manager was made to pay for not having enough in reserve to support his first-team regulars. So, do the same depth issues remain as they gun for the title?

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Most concern: central midfield and right wing

After no European football last season, it was imperative for Arsenal to beef up their squad over the summer with their spot in the Europa League confirmed – especially considering that injury curses tend to hit the Gunners on an annual basis.

And Arsenal’s summer business hints at there being two positions where the north Londoners are still short.

A Transfer Deadline Day move for midfielder Douglas Luiz failed to materialise while there was reported late interest in Wolves winger Pedro Neto. Failure to get the two targets means central midfield, more specifically Partey’s role, and right wing look like areas of concern for Arsenal.

There is reason to plan around a potential Partey absence. Before a run of eight straight league starts to end this first part of the season, the midfielder had only featured in 58 per cent of Arsenal’s Premier League games since arriving from Atletico Madrid in October 2020, meaning he is not reliable enough to be considered available every week.

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Lokonga has already deputised for Partey’s injuries already this season, but Arteta’s team has more control when the Ghanaian starts, conceding nearly twice as many goals without him compared to with him – while their attack is also enhanced when he plays.

Meanwhile, too much was asked of Bukayo Saka at right wing last season. The England winger was left without any real competition capable of challenging him for a starting spot, leaving him as the only Gunners player – and one of just four in the top flight last season – to feature in all 38 Premier League matches.

The goalscoring exploits that Saka has now – five goals and six assists in his last 12 Arsenal starts – faded away towards the end of an exhausting campaign last term, with zero open play goals and two assists in the final 10 league games of the season.

Bukayo Saka leaves the pitch after picking up an injury in Arsenal's match against Nottingham Forest
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Bukayo Saka suffered physically at the back end of last season

Should Saka succumb to injury during this campaign, then new signings Fabio Vieira and Marquinhos are the only real options, alongside Reiss Nelson. That’s if Arteta wants to keep Jesus in a centre forward role, instead of the wide position he often found himself at Manchester City.

Even then, Vieira – like Jesus – is most comfortable as a central player while Marquinhos, 19, who has enjoyed some promising Europa League starts in recent weeks, might be considered too raw.

Nelson, meanwhile, showed his potential with two goals in Arsenal’s 5-0 win over Nottingham Forest at the end of last month, but he has only been trusted with one minute of Premier League football since then.

‘Amber’ concern: striker, centre-back and goalkeeper

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Gabriel Jesus sits down with Tubes to discuss all things Arsenal and why he does the ‘phone call’ celebration.

The impact of Jesus at Arsenal following his £45m move from Manchester City has been clear to see both on and off the pitch.

Many in the Arsenal squad have spoken about how the Brazilian striker and Zinchenko have brought a “winning mentality” from City over the summer – while Jesus, as a centre forward, has been the Gunners’ player for the big moment with five goals and six assists in his opening 14 games.

But if Jesus was to start missing games for Arsenal then it would fall on Eddie Nketiah to take up the mantle up front. With five goals in seven league games at the end of last season, the 23-year-old showed that he can start regularly for the Gunners – but he has struggled to challenge Jesus for a starting spot since the summer.

Nketiah has managed three goals in seven non-Premier League games so he hasn’t lost his sharpness, but he is yet to find the net in 12 Premier League games from the bench.

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While an impressive Saturday Night Football cameo against Fulham in August – where he played alongside Jesus in a front two – demonstrated the English striker’s the ability to impact games, the No 9 position is another area where Arsenal cannot afford to lose their top talent.

At centre-back, Saliba and Gabriel have been ever-present, with Ben White pushed out to a right-back role and impressing.

The opportunity to move White back into the centre gives Arsenal some flexibility should one of Saliba or Gabriel need a rest or a spell on the treatment table, especially with Arsenal having so many options at right-back.

But should Arteta want to keep White on the right, then only Rob Holding lies in waiting to come in at centre-half. While Holding is an experienced option having been at the club for six years, he doesn’t have the quality that his other centre-back team-mates have. Holding’s red card against Tottenham in May’s north London derby shows the risks that come with the 27-year-old.

Gabriel is held back by Rob Holding after clashing with Patrick Bamford
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Arsenal have Rob Holding (middle) as cover for Gabriel and William Saliba if Ben White stays at right-back

In goal, Aaron Ramsdale has an excellent record when it comes to avoiding injury in Arsenal colours but the Gunners have downgraded in their back-up shot stopper department this year.

Last season, Bernd Leno took on the gloves when Ramsdale was unavailable last season and while Matt Turner has enjoyed a run in the Europa League, question marks still remain over how comfortable he is with Arteta’s possession-based style at the back.

Areas for optimism

Arsenal appear to have plenty of options at full-back, meaning a repeat of the problems caused by Tierney’s absence last season is unlikely to occur.

On the right, White’s emergence as a right-back option means Takehiro Tomiyasu’s minutes can be managed better, with Cedric Soares available as additional full-back cover.

Arsenal
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Arsenal still have Emile Smith Rowe (left) to welcome back

On the left, Zinchenko’s arrival means Tierney has been forced to share playing time so far this season, while Tomiyasu and Cedric also have experience of covering on the opposite flank if required.

Arsenal will see eight of their ‘regular starting XI’ head off to Qatar for the World Cup, but they will also be boosted in some ways by the mid-season break, with Emile Smith Rowe due to return from injury to add numbers in midfield and attack.

After the World Cup, Arsenal will also have the January transfer window to address any depth concerns that could arise.

Mikel Arteta felt his side could have been much better despite the 3-0 win
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Mikel Arteta loses eight of his first-team regulars to the World Cup over the break

It is difficult to predict with any certainty what affect the mid-season tournament in Qatar will have on Arsenal or any of their Premier League rivals, purely given the unprecedented nature of the campaign. Manchester City and co will have their own contingent in the Middle East, although Erling Haaland will not be there.

With Arsenal failing to win the title in the last five seasons where they have spent Christmas Day at the top of the table – and one of the best teams in the world keen to usurp them at the summit – the Gunners may need a bit of good fortune, as well as good planning, if they are to be named champions.

Arsenal’s post-World Cup fixtures

West Ham (H) – Premier League, December 26 – 8pm kick-off

Brighton (A) – Premier League, December 31 – live on Sky Sports, 5.30pm kick-off

Newcastle (H) – Premier League, January 3, live on Sky Sports, 8pm kick-off

FA Cup third round tie – weekend of January 7/8

Tottenham (A) – Premier League, weekend of January 14/15

Manchester United (H) – Premier League, weekend of January 21/22

Potential FA Cup fourth round tie – weekend of January 28/29

Everton (A) – Premier League, weekend of February 4/5

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Nev: Arsenal PL’s best team, but Man City will win title by 15 points

With the first part of the Premier League season coming to an end this weekend due to the World Cup break, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville gives his verdict on the big talking points in the top flight.

Arsenal are a class act but City will ease to title

I said last week that I thought Manchester City would win the title by 15 points – I’m going to hang in there with that prediction.

But Arsenal are making me doubt that. They’ve been fantastic, they are the class act of this first 14 games. We want a title race, we want there to be competitiveness in the Premier League and not for one team to run away with it every single season.

At this moment in time, Arsenal are putting up a real fight. They’re the best team in the league in the first 14 games of the season by a mile.

I was there for their very first game of the season at Crystal Palace on that Friday night in August and the first 25 minutes were electrifying between those front players and they’ve actually maintained that all the way through. They’ve got a spirit, a togetherness and great football.

I like the fact that [Gabriel] Jesus isn’t going to score 25 goals. We won titles quite a few times at United without having players that scored that many goals. That wasn’t a barometer of winning a title, I don’t think.

Sometimes it happened, don’t get me wrong. We had [Ruud] van Nistelrooy, a [Dwight] Yorke, a [Andy] Cole or a [Wayne] Rooney – that happened. But ordinarily sometimes players didn’t get past 15 goals but the team was better.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Wolves against Arsenal

What Jesus has done up front there has made the team better. They’re fantastic in all departments really at the moment.

I don’t think they’ll win the title, I think City will. I do think they will get into the top four but I still think it will be interesting come February and March with Arsenal where they end up.

I still think there’s an element of they’ve still got to prove themselves. I will say it time and time again until they show me differently.

But what they’re demonstrating at this moment in time is that they’re the best team in the league, the most consistent team in the league, and from where they were at the end of last season – well done to Mikel Arteta, it’s a brilliant job that he’s done.

Mikel Arteta celebrates Arsenal's win at Wolves
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Mikel Arteta celebrates Arsenal’s win at Wolves which takes them five points clear

Should Arsenal strengthen in January?

The recruitment’s been fantastic and well done to the club for holding their nerve through a difficult moment where they could’ve easily put more pressure on Mikel.

Other managers may have lost their job, he had been there for three years when they didn’t get into the top four last season. They’ve got the right players in and all of a sudden it looks like it’s knitted together.

Will Arsenal strengthen in January? What risks does that bring? Do you strengthen to boost the squad or do you strengthen to boost the first eleven? If you do the latter, do you upset two or three players who are currently in the team?

Martin Odegaard celebrates scoring for Arsenal vs Wolves
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Arsenal have been consistent in their squad but do they have the depth?

It’s a conundrum that is going through the Arsenal board’s mind in this moment in time. I’m not sure any other clubs will do business. I don’t think City will do business nor any other clubs at the top. There’s a sense that Arsenal may do something in midfield.

They’re in for a really good season. They have to make sure they don’t come out of the World Cup as an unfortunate story of the World Cup, as all these big Premier League clubs do with six, seven, eight key players going to Qatar.

This could be players going to the final and coming back tired or getting injured and being out for two or three months.

Man Utd nowhere near their rivals but players like Ten Hag

I think Erik ten Hag has done very well in the first part of his Manchester United career.

It is still very early, and he’s had a difficult hand. Picking up from the end of last season and following a difficult transfer window, the situation of Cristiano Ronaldo putting a transfer request in and the situation has developed over the last two or three months.

Harry Maguire has been out of form and as his captain, he’s had to take the armband off him in some ways by leaving him out of the team. He’s had a number of things go against him and the results at the start of the season were terrible.

Manchester United's head coach Erik ten Hag looks on at Craven Cottage
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Manchester United’s head coach Erik ten Hag looks on at Craven Cottage

After the Brentford game, you felt the world was going to end for Manchester United with Liverpool on the Monday Night Football the week after.

But where he went up massively in my estimations was that week building up to facing Liverpool. He fronted up all the press, he stood there and answered all the difficult questions and he came out in the difficult moments when people were asking constantly about Ronaldo and Maguire, and he’s fronted it with real steel. He’s come through it with real strength.

What I would say is, he’ll have also realised what big a task he has. Manchester United have spent over £200m in the transfer window and yet they still don’t look like a team that’s spent £200m – similar to Chelsea.

It’s still a team that plays inconsistently – not just from match to match but within games. Some of the football we saw in pre-season, the flowing football, the rhythm in midfield… they still look like a team with a default setting back to the past.

Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring Man Utd's opening goal
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An inconsistent Manchester United have ended the first part of the Premier League season in fifth

They’ve now got Christian Eriksen, Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro in midfield so United should be dominating matches with that combination, without a shadow of a doubt they should be dominating the ball. But they still look preferable in counter-attack mode.

I’m not sure why that is because I’m sure Ten Hag’s training programme through his time at Bayern Munich with Pep [Guardiola] and at Ajax is all about possession. They can’t dominate the ball, so I don’t know what it is.

Their win at Fulham didn’t come about because of the performance; it came through a moment. What Erik ten Hag will want to see in the next six to eight months is the performance level rise enormously as United are still nowhere near their rivals in the league when it comes to performance both in and out of possession.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Fulham against Manchester United

The players are now playing for him on the pitch so he’s won that battle in the dressing room. That was really important to win and he has come out of that as the top dog. The club have backed him and the players have responded to that as he’s taken on some big characters.

He can now reflect on what’s happened, but after the break he will still have to go back to Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. That’s a six or seven-year-old partnership despite Manchester United spending fortunes.”

Potter under pressure at Chelsea but project will take time

I got battered by Chelsea fans at the start of the season but I’m not surprised about what’s happened with them. I think it’s got all the hallmarks of a project that will take time.

When you look at what happened at the start of the season, there’s no doubt that was handled with crassness with how the transfer market was being handled. It might take Chelsea a couple of years to recover from that transfer window if they don’t get it right.

Chelsea manager Graham Potter during the Premier League match at the Amex Stadium, Brighton.
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Chelsea manager Graham Potter is under pressure already at Stamford Bridge

I think Graham Potter is under big pressure at this moment in time but I hope that they see it through as what we’re seeing is the culmination of Abramovich leaving, the new owner [Todd Boehly] coming in and sticking his chest out, going around Europe thinking he can play Football Manager.

I’ve seen it before at Manchester United – it doesn’t tend to work. I’ve always thought Chelsea have been a very smart, efficient, clinical operator when it comes to recruitment.

I think Chelsea are one of the big stories at the start of the season. They will improve, but there will be questions asked. A bit like at United, they may start to ask: where’s the £250m gone? That quarter of a billion quid.

Chelsea fans will be in a position whereby they’ll have to test if their ‘Abramovich-reactive’ nature of the past 20 years is still there as part of this new ownership, while the new owners are going to have to prove if they are more forgiving and rational, looking more at longevity.”

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Odegaard double sends Arsenal five clear over Christmas

Martin Odegaard scored twice as Arsenal won 2-0 at Wolves to capitalise on Manchester City’s defeat and open up a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League over Christmas.

Arsenal were already guaranteed top spot in the Premier League over the festive period after Brentford stunned the Premier League champions earlier on Saturday, but with new boss Julen Lopetegui watching in the stands, Wolves frustrated the Gunners in a goalless first half at Molineux.

It looked as though Arsenal would head into the World Cup break with just a three-point lead at the summit until captain Odegaard tapped Fabio Vieira’s cross in from close range (55). The Norwegian then clinched a seismic victory for Mikel Arteta’s side with his second (75).

Arsenal’s 12th league victory of the season opened up a 14-point buffer between themselves and fifth-placed Manchester United in the race for Champions League football, though that early-season objective has surely been cast aside by the Gunners’ relentless pursuit of a first league title since 2004.

Player ratings

Wolves: Sa (6), Semedo (5), Collins (5), Toti (6), Kilman (5), Bueno (6), B. Traore (6), Neves (6), Moutinho (6), A. Traore (5), Guedes (6).

Subs: Podence (5), Lembikisa (5), Nunes (n/a).

Arsenal: Ramsdale (6), White (6), Saliba (6), Gabriel (6), Zinchenko (6), Partey (6), Xhaka (5), Odegaard (8), Saka (6), Jesus (6), Martinelli (7).

Subs: Vieira (7), Cedric (n/a), Nelson (n/a), Elneny (n/a).

Man of the Match: Martin Odegaard

Odegaard inspires Gunners at Molineux

Martin Odegaard celebrates scoring for Arsenal vs Wolves
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Martin Odegaard celebrates scoring for Arsenal vs Wolves

Wolves introduced new manager Lopetegui to the Molineux crowd before kick-off and the Spaniard will have been impressed with his side’s resilience, particularly in the first half, despite the result.

After Gabriel Jesus saw his early effort chalked off for offside and goalkeeper Jose Sa tipped Bukayo Saka’s deflected cross over, Arsenal lost the influential Granit Xhaka to illness on the quarter-hour mark. His replacement Fabio Vieira ensured the visitors retained control of the ball, but Wolves were potent on the counter.

Team news

  • Adama Traore and Toti returned as Wolves made two changes to the team beaten by Brighton.
  • Arsenal were unchanged from Saturday’s Premier League victory at Chelsea.

Goncalo Guedes fired over after being played in behind by Nelson Semedo, and the Portugal international thought he should have been awarded a penalty following a collision in the area with William Saliba, but VAR deemed it not to be a foul.

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The Saturday Night Football panel debate whether Wolves should have been awarded a penalty for William Saliba’s challenge on Goncalo Guedes in the first half.

Jesus had two chances to end his 10-game goal drought before the end of the half but clipped the top of the Wolves crossbar before shanking a volley wide after Ben White’s cross reached him unmarked at the back post.

Those misses nearly came back to haunt the Gunners, with Guedes pouncing on Saliba’s blind pass only to see his shot deflect past the post, but a frustrating first half was forgotten about within 10 minutes of the restart as Odegaard struck.

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Martin Odegaard is left with a simple finish to open the scoring after Arsenal find a way through the Wolves defence.

Jesus played Vieira in behind the Wolves defence and his ball into the goal mouth was dispatched by Odegaard, who had the simple task of converting from a matter of yards.

The victory was secured 15 minutes from time when Odegaard rifled a rebound into the bottom corner after Gabriel Martinelli was denied by Sa, sealing Arsenal’s place at the Premier League summit and further fuelling hope this may be the Gunners’ year.

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Martin Odegaard scores his second goal of the game to give Arsenal breathing space against Wolves.

Arsenal top at Christmas – Opta stats

  • Arsenal will end the day five points clear of second place Manchester City, the biggest lead the Gunners have had at the top of the Premier League table since 13th December 2013.
  • Wolves will be bottom of the Premier League table on Christmas Day for the first time since the 2003-04 campaign, a season in which they finished bottom and were relegated.
  • Arsenal will sit top of the Premier League table on Christmas Day for the first time since the 2007-08 campaign, a season in which they ultimately finished third.
  • Arsenal are the only side to have scored in every Premier League game this season, while they’ve also got the joint-fewest goals conceded (11) and joint-most clean sheets so far this term (7).

Can Arsenal win the Premier League?

Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp:

“If Leicester can win the Premier League, why can’t Arsenal? Everything is still possible. Manchester City are still favourites, I think they will win it because of the quality they have, but for Arsenal to be in this position is an achievement.

“I don’t think anybody would have put them in the top four, and yet they are 14 points ahead of fifth-place Manchester United. Getting into the Champions League and taking that next step would have been Mikel Arteta’s objective at the start of the year, it would be amazing were they to throw that away.

“But, right now, Arsenal have got themselves in such a position that they have got to believe. They might need to add players in January but if they can do that and keep players fit, anything is possible.”

Arteta: Patience pays off for Arsenal

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta shares his thoughts on the Gunners’ 2-0 win over Wolves and was pleased with the teams patience and resilience as they go into the World Cup break top of the Premier League.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta told Sky Sports: “Today was about being very patient. The game Wolves proposed made it difficult to attack spaces and it was very easy to get impatient and frustrated.

“We wanted to get away from that game because they were waiting for a mistake to catch us on the break. We did better at the end of the first half, we started the second half really well and we created enough chances to win the game.

“Mentally this week was a tricky one. We played two-and-a-half days ago, we had to come away from home again. But that is the mentality you have to have if you want to be at the top.

“It’s been a long, long time since we have been in this position. The fans fully deserve it for the full transformation they have created at the club with their energy, passion, involvement, and what they have been able to transmit to the players.”

Davis: Wolves should have had penalty

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Wolves boss Steve Davis feels his side should have had an 8th minute penalty after William Saliba’s challenge on Goncalo Guedes during their 2-0 defeat to Arsenal.

Wolves caretaker Steve Davis told Sky Sports: “I think we had good moments in the game. They had a lot of possession, we slowed them down. The shape was fantastic and hard to get through, we defended the box when we had to.

“We were happy at 0-0. The decision in the first half should’ve gone for us. He’s onside and it was a foul and he was the last man, so it was a goalscoring opportunity and potentially a red card. We feel hard done by because those moments are really important to us at the moment.

“It changes the mentality even more, defending a goal that you should’ve had. VAR, not sure whether they use it – no point in having it if you’re not going to use it. They have to decide if they want VAR and if they do they need to use it.”

Man of the Match – Martin Odegaard

Martin Odegaard is Arsenal’s top Premier League goalscorer this season (6 goals), while only Kevin De Bruyne, James Maddison and Leandro Trossard (6 each) have been involved in more away goals in the competition this season than Odegaard (5 – 4 goals, 1 assist).

FPL Stats: Wolves vs Arsenal

Goals Odegaard (2)
Assists Fabio Vieira, Martinelli
Bonus points Odegaard (3 pts), White (2 pts), Zinchenko (1 pt)

What’s next?

West Ham visit Arsenal on Boxing Day at 8pm after the World Cup break while Everton host Wolves on the same day at 3pm.

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Arteta at 150: Arsenal boss analyses defining moments in charge

Mikel Arteta’s 150th league game in charge of Arsenal ended with a 1-0 victory over Chelsea. If the Arsenal manager wins his 151st against Wolves, Arsenal – who have made their best start to a league season in the history of the club – will be top of the table at Christmas

It has been a high-speed, bumpy and at times turbulent introduction into management, but at the moment Arsenal and Arteta are looking down at the rest.

There have been defining moments along the way, but as Arteta and I sit down and reflect on his almost three years in charge, it is not the trophies or the wins that are the most rewarding moments to him but something far more significant.

“I am really proud, especially about one thing – that we had a club that was in a difficult state and today we have a club that I and we can feel proud of,” he said.

Arteta’s journey began with a 1-1 draw against Bournemouth. He can remember the rain, the nerves, the feeling of privilege and honour as he walked out, and the team he selected.


Saturday 12th November 7:30pm

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Only three – Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson and Granit Xhaka – are still at the club. I refer to them as ‘survivors’, but Arteta puts me straight as we discuss the evolution of the team.

“They are part of this journey. It’s been very intense and I am so grateful for every player that has been part of this journey. They all added to what is happening now for sure, and to make ourselves better coaches. It’s been an absolute pleasure, I have really enjoyed it.”

Mikel Arteta's first match as Arsenal manager was against Bournemouth
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Mikel Arteta’s first match as Arsenal manager was against Bournemouth

That game gave Arteta his first taste of life as the boss. He knew having worked under Pep Guardiola that “when you’re an assistant coach the bullets go to the person that is next to you”, but he was not prepared for how tough dropping a player would be.

“You’re telling them you are not able to do your profession,” he explained. “I’m taking [away] the nicest part of the week, which is the weekends or the midweek game. It’s painful. The way I’ve learned my profession and the way I was as a player, I think it’s much better to tell them straight and give them the reasons why.”

Game 28 – Beating Chelsea in the FA Cup final

Mikel Arteta won the FA Cup in his first season as Arsenal manager
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Mikel Arteta won the FA Cup in his first season as Arsenal manager

We fast forward to game 28 – Arteta and a victorious day at Wembley for Arsenal as they beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final.

Reflecting on the game, he said: “It came really early and was very special. It was after lockdown, just look at the pictures of the empty stadium, that was a bigger shame. We did enjoy it, but it wasn’t the same. I would love to do that with our supporters in that stadium.”

Some managers go their whole careers without getting their hands on silverware, so what did that win do so early in his managerial career?

“Things turn around so quickly. It is great, it’s so difficult to win, especially in this league. If you see not winning a trophy like a failure you’re going to be in your own room depressed and not feeling great about what you do. So you have to be yourself believe and work for it and do your best. That’s all we can do.”

Game 53 – Boxing Day victory ends 56-day winless run

Mikel Arteta celebrates with his players after beating Chelsea on Boxing Day in 2020
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Mikel Arteta celebrates with his players after beating Chelsea on Boxing Day in 2020

Game No 53 “changed a lot of things”, said Arteta, as he looked back on the win against Chelsea on Boxing Day, 2020. It had been 56 days since Arsenal had managed a league win. Stadiums were empty – the team was struggling with a lack of connection with fans.

“There was a huge wall, it was really difficult for them,” the Arsenal boss said. “That game came at a really important moment. I don’t like to single out a player, but I think probably Emile Smith Rowe – that is the moment where he really appears into the picture and something changed and that helped shift momentum big time.”

That season, Arsenal went on to finish eighth. Arteta was backed heavily in the transfer window with the likes of Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale joining the club.

Game 109 – Winning the north London derby

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win over Spurs in the Premier League

Three games into the start of the season Arsenal were bottom of the table and winless. Then came game No 109 for Arteta – a 3-1 north London derby win over Tottenham in September, 2021.

“I look at it and I have goosebumps,” he remembered. “This feeling because look at the stadium, it’s completely different. I said it many times the support that we’ve got, the connection and the unity that we have at the club and what these people that are right behind the team have done for the club, it’s incredible.

“We wouldn’t be able to do without them. I’m sure of that. The team made it a very special day for them and a great one to just spend with them for sure.”

That day, Thomas Partey and Xhaka marshalled the midfield – a partnership that has thrived this season, despite Xhaka’s Arsenal career coming closer than ever to ending.

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Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta has hailed the turn around in form of Granit Xhaka and admits he was close to leaving the club at one point

Arteta placed his belief and trust in Xhaka ,who has gone on to repay his manager. There were moments he admitted that he wondered if he had got some of the tough calls wrong.

“It has taken some decisions and some fights and some moments where you have doubts about yourself and about whether this is going to work out,” he said.

“You play against Norwich at home and you say ‘well we need to get this one out of the way after losing three’ – you are under pressure and you have to deliver.

“I have a lot of people, more and more especially from other sports that I can call on in those times.”

Game 128 – European challenge falls apart

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Tottenham’s win against Arsenal in the Premier League

The next game may have held a little less significance in the growth of this team had it been played on its original date, but the rearranged north London derby became box office. Spurs won this one – 3-0, in May of this year.

Two of the game’s great rivals chasing a Champions League place in the final few weeks of the season. Arsenal were in pole position but their European challenge fell apart in Arteta’s 128th game in charge. The injustice he felt over Rob Holding’s sending-off is still fresh.

He reflected: “It was a big moment for us and we know what happened. It was a difficult moment because we had it and we lost it.”

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Newcastle United’s win against Arsenal in the Premier League

A few days later defeat against Newcastle was another hammer blow to Champions League ambitions.

“It was a consequence of what happened in the derby, but very difficult to predict. What I saw in training two days before, the day before, when I saw them in their warm-up, I said they are ready to go.

“And then you go there and – this is the beauty of this sport – everything falls down and you have to react to it.”

The pressure and expectation shifted as the club closed in on the prize, yet the players did not respond in the way Arteta had hoped.

Arsenal delivering this season

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Chelsea against Arsenal in the Premier League

There have been questions asked of this Arsenal team’s mentality this season but, defeat to Manchester United aside, the team has come up with the answers.

“I hope we have learnt – you have to be in that situation again and then deliver.”

Deliver they have, with six league wins in their last seven, including triumphs over Liverpool and Tottenham before victory against Chelsea last week. Arteta’s reaction at the final whistle told its own story.

This was something big that gives the whole club a real sense of belief. The progress, maturity and courage of his young squad has, he admits, taken him a little by surprise.

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Take a look at Gabriel Jesus’ standout moments from the 2022-23 Premier League season so far

They have grown as a group, while Arteta has evolved too. He admits to changing as a coach, a person and a father in so many ways over the last three years.

“They needed someone to hold their backs and feel protected and something that they could hold to when I first joined,” he explained.

“Now they need somebody that’s going to challenge them to the next stage and is going to really push them to try to fulfil their potential.”

Potential that has taken them to the top – so the really big question is, can they stay there?

“We want to be there. We have to play better every single day. And that’s what I tell the boys – the better we play, the more chances we will have to win more football matches.

“We know the competition, when it is [finished]. And I’ve said [it’s] too early [to judge], but so far we’ve done it.”

Watch Wolves vs Arsenal, live on Sky Sports Premier League, on Saturday from 7.30pm; kick-off 7.45pm.

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