Despite many critics and opposition fans waiting for Arsenal to fail in one of the biggest derbies in English football - the North London Derby, the Gunners managed to open an eight-point gap at the top of the Premier League table with a dominant victory against Antonio Conte's Tottenham Hotspur on January 15. This was the Gunners' first league double over their bitter-rivals since the 2013-14 season. (More Football News)
With Manchester City dropping points, Arsenal have gained an eight point gap against the reigning champions. Arsenal are among the contenders to win their first title since the 2003-04 season. After years of below-par success at the Emirates stadium, suddenly there's a feeling of optimism amongst Gunners fans, even as they realize there still is a long way to go in the season.
This is a big change from a few years back, when fans around the stadium would unfurl banners that signalled their latest grievance against the club.
As great as Arsene Wenger was, his later years in charge were marked by disappointing results and fan dissatisfaction. The success in FA Cups was not enough, as fans watched the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City celebrate league titles and European honours. They even snatched talent from across the continent at Arsenal's expense.
When Leicester City won the Premier League in 2015-16, many had hoped it would be Arsenal’s turn to lift the trophy. They had a talented squad that year. But once again, things did not quite turn out that way.
Wenger at last left the building and Unai Emery walked in 2018. Despite the change in management, the rumblings and disharmony amongst fans and players remained. A defeat in the Europa League final was the final straw in Emery's reign as the following season saw him being the first manager being sacked since Bruce Rioch in 1996. Mikel Arteta's appointment in December 2019 saw the club hand the reins over to a relative rookie in terms of managing a team.
Arsenal started the 2020-21 season on a poor note. Then skipper, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was fired. Fans again called for the manager’s head. But sanity prevailed in the boardroom and the team seems settled now.
“I remember that date. It is seared in my memory. I know where I was, where I was sitting. It was a long journey home,” Arsenal CEO Vinai Venkatesham was quoted in Associated Press when asked about last season's slow start. “If you’d have asked me then what we felt, we felt we were on the right path. I know the first three games of the season we were under intense pressure, but we had great belief in Mikel, we had great belief in (sporting director) Edu, we had great belief in what we were trying to do in terms of our recruitment strategy and the types of players we were going to bring in. But can I say that sitting here having played three, lost three, bottom of the league, having a two-week international break was a pleasant time? It wasn’t, but we were all absolutely together.”
This season it seems different. As former Newcastle United striker and English Premier League icon Alan Shearer said in his column on BBC, "Since the start of this campaign I've been saying this looks like a different Gunners team in terms of their mentality, and Arteta and his coaching team have another year's experience too."
Recruiting the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City was a wise move, as the duo knows what it to be like English champions is. They were crowned champions four times with Manchester. Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham have struggled this season with injuries and form. However, the Manchester clubs have shown why they could be a real threat to Arsenal's title campaign.
With the World Cup in mid-season, many pundits thought that Arsenal could falter and give away their top spot. However, they remain in control by winning 3 out of the possible four (a draw against Newcastle United). It is clear this Gunners team is not afraid of taking on the mantle of pressure.
With many games yet to be played, Gunners fans know the league still is not in their grasp. Manchester City, Manchester United and Newcastle United are close on their heels. But there is no harm in dreaming a little.