For weeks, many have been waiting for what they viewed as the inevitable collapse of Arsenal from early season front-runners to mere top-four aspirants.
Now might be time to ditch the "pretenders" tag for the Gunners in the 2013-2014 season. After 13 games, Arsenal look like genuine title challengers.
Arsene Wenger’s side sit four points clear atop the Premier League, and have undoubtedly been the best team to date. While Manchester City may have hit loftier high notes, Arsenal are the only team to yet show the consistency generally required of title winners. It is a word not often associated with Arsenal in recent years, but that’s exactly what they’ve been.
After losing to Manchester United, when they were outworked rather than outplayed, many thought the slump might come. Instead, Arsenal have responded with back-to-back victories over Southampton and Cardiff City where they had to withstand difficult moments, yet also maintained an air of being able to step through the gears at decisive moments.
Mesut Ozil has epitomized this characteristic. The club’s record signing may not have been at his glittering best in recent weeks, but he still provides a couple of moments of genuine quality that can decide matches as he did with two assists on Saturday. Meanwhile, in Aaron Ramsey, Wenger has not only the most improved player in the Premier League so far this season, but the best. The Welshman may not be able to maintain his current goal-scoring ratio but with Jack Wilshere coming back into form, Theo Walcott returned from injury, and Lukas Podolski soon to do likewise, other players should be able to pick up the slack.
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It is far too early to call Arsenal title favorites and the greater squad strength at Manchester City in particular could yet prove decisive. At the same time, there is no reason to think that there will be a grand-scale collapse as there was the last time when Arsenal were in serious title contention before Eduardo’s injury and the emotion-filled aftermath changed everything.
There is little to suggest that Arsenal’s advantage at the top of the Premier League won’t at least be maintained after the visit of Hull City on Wednesday. It promises to be a similar encounter to the trip to Cardiff: a side that will put in plenty of endeavor, but that ultimately lacks the quality to seriously threaten Arsenal if they are even close to their best.
Liverpool were well below that mark when Hull beat them 3-1 on Sunday to move up into the top half of the division. Manager Steve Bruce may be far from a coaching genius, but he has the Premier League nous that could be vital to Hull extending their stay in the top flight. Perhaps more importantly he was able to secure the services of Tom Huddlestone. The former Tottenham man has his limitations, pace and movement being the most notable, but he is a superb passer of the ball and it is a something of a surprise that he isn’t playing at a higher level. In addition to Tom Livermore, on loan from Tottenham, Hull have a good base in the crucial central area of the pitch.
That’s even more important given that they are fairly lightweight, in terms of quality, in both penalty areas. Hull were at their best against Liverpool, but just three days later it is asking a lot for them to produce a performance of similar endeavor.
In a busy run of fixtures, which includes vital upcoming matches in the next 11 days against Everton, Napoli and Manchester City, Arsenal may not be firing on all cylinders against Hull. Once again, though, they should do enough to get the three points. It’s what title bids are made of.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Hull City