Arsenal saw their unbeaten start to the 2022-23 season come to an end on the first weekend in September with a 3-1 away defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford but are they title challengers?
Up until that point, they were the only team to have a 100% record, having won their first five league games of the season. This fantastic start to the season had Arsenal fans dreaming of past glories and wondering whether they would see those days returning to the Emirates this season.
One defeat certainly shouldn’t dampen the optimism of Arsenal fans too much. They came out of the defeat at Old Trafford it plenty of credit, especially in the media. For large parts of the game, they outplayed United, carving out more chances than the home side and dominating possession. If they hadn’t had an early goal ruled out by VAR for a controversial foul in the build-up to the goal, it could have been a different game altogether.
And whilst this defeat should be seen as a mere bump in the road, it has already got people asking questions about Arsenal’s mentality and whether they can perform at the highest level against their biggest rivals.
Before the match, Arsenal legend and Sky Sports pundit, Paul Merson, already had doubts about what defeat would mean to Arsenal, “You’ve got to get excited, they’ve played so well. This is their first big test,” he said.
“If they lose today, it’s same old, same old. Flat track bullies.”
Perhaps more surprisingly, it was his fellow pundit, former United midfielder Roy Keane who was singing Arsenal’s praises prior to kick-off.
“They have been brilliant in the games. You can only beat the opposition that is in front of them. They have had a little bit of luck but surely that will give them confidence.
“The recruitment has been excellent, they have brought a lot of quality, players who have won big trophies who are used to coming to Man United and winning. That will only help the younger players.”
Arsenal fans had a similar verdict following the defeat to United. Talking to the BBC following the defeat, here are a couple of Arsenal fans’ verdicts:
Alec: The result was definitely a reality check in the sense that, yes we’ve been playing great football and dominating games, but the last few matches we’ve been lucky to win as our goalscoring has started to dry up and we can’t expect to beat the better teams when we constantly waste our chances. Hopefully this forces us to be sharper now.
Andrew: Arsenal were clearly the better team for 65 minutes but at the end of day the team that scores the most goals is the winning team. Arsenal have clearly improved in numerous areas of the field and it was good to see. The bigger question is who is now going to finish in the top four?
How they bounce back from this defeat will perhaps tell us more about Arsenal’s title credentials this season. On paper, they have a couple of easier games coming up, sandwiched between Europa League fixtures.
First up is Everton at home followed by Brentford away. Everton have had some early season struggles, however, they raised their game for the recent Merseyside derby where they could have arguably taken all three points against arch-rivals Liverpool, in the end, settling for a point in an entertaining nil-nil draw.
Brentford have been one of the surprise packages in the early part of the season. They currently find themselves in eighth place in the table after two wins, three draws and just one defeat in their opening six fixtures, including a 4-0 hammering of Manchester United. On paper, many would have fancied Brentford to struggle this season, especially after losing Christian Eriksen to United, however, instead, they are flourishing.
The next big test of Arsenal’s title credentials will come on 1 October when they welcome Tottenham to The Emirates. Like Arsenal, Spurs have made a strong start to the season and are unbeaten after six games, winning four and drawing twice.
Following the visit of Spurs, Arsenal will welcome Liverpool to The Emirates in the next league game and by mid-October, we should have a good idea of whether or not Arsenal are genuine title contenders or whether it will once again be a battle for fourth place.
These are must-win fixtures for Arsenal if they want to make the top four this season, let alone challenge for the title.
Despite Manchester United’s poor start to the season, losing their opening two fixtures, they are looking like a much more capable team under new manager Erik ten Hag and are likely to take more points off the big six this season that in the past campaign. Chelsea have also recovered from a sluggish start and the signing of ex-Gunner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on deadline day certainly adds another dimension to their attack.
Manchester City already looks like they will be the team to beat and despite two draws, they have already notched 20 goals in their opening six fixtures, six more than Arsenal and five more than Liverpool, who have a 9-0 victory against Bournemouth in their stats.
After their strong start to the season, Betway Sports have Arsenal as third-favourites to lift the Premier League title in May at 13.00. They currently sit behind Manchester City (1.40) and Liverpool (8.00), however, a punt on them making the top four at 1.50 seems a more conservative and sensible bet.