Since Unai Emery’s Arsenal side lost their two opening Premier League games to Man City and Chelsea, the Gunners have gone on to win their next six fixtures. This had led to suggestions from pundits and supporters that the North London side are flying under the radar, bouyed by Emery’s arrival and could challenge for domestic glory in 2018/19; though could Arsenal contend for the Premier League title?
Arsenal have won their last nine fixtures in all competitions and six of those have been in the domestic league.
Since embarking on their six-match Premier League win streak, the North London side have scored 17 goals and only conceded five times. This winning streak has seen the Gunners move into the top four and they now sit just two points behind Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool. The Spanish manager looks to be enjoying his project at Arsenal as his side are silently keeping chase with the Premier League favourites.
Arsenal’s 5-1 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage highlighted the changes Emery has made. The side still play slick passing football, though they are playing at a much quicker pace and in a much more confident manner. Arsenal are also showing resilience and a desire to play through difficult periods in a way that fans had not seen in the last few seasons of Arsene Wenger’s reign.
A big indication of Arsenal’s change that shows that they could push for the title in the current campaign is their away form. They have already amassed three Premier League away wins after only winning four times on the road in last season’s campaign.
The Gunners have played with grit in almost every game this season, and even their 3-2 loss to Chelsea in their second league game showed Emery has instilled his players with a willingness to win and not give up till the very last; an element that had faded, if not disappeared, in the concluding moments of Wenger’s tenure at the club.
The Spaniard’s relationship with the players has been essential to performances. Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang look to be developing a lethal partnership that can unlock most defences, whilst Lucas Torreira has made a significant impact to Arsenal’s performances. Whilst the Uruguayan has been on the pitch, the Gunners goals scoring rate has gone up by 122% and goals conceded have gone down by 70%.
When Emery was appointed he was excited and appreciated Arsenal’s ‘commitment to young players’. This can be seen as he is willing to play youthful players who did not play to the best of their abilities under Wenger. Rob Holding has been filling in for the injured Sokratis and earned a man of the match performance against Watford in which he helped his side to keep a clean sheet. Alex Iwobi and Mattéo Guendouzi have featured in a large number of Arsenal’s opening fixtures, and the relationship Emery has with the players points towards his excellent managerial style.
His calm and collected approach to Arsenal’s performances shows that the Gunners could be potential title challengers; if they can keep up this level of performance, then there is no reason they could not be the surprise contenders. It may be too soon, in Emery’s first season at the club, for Arsenal to truly launch a truly credible charge for Premier League glory, but the signs are well and truly there; Arsenal’s players and fans alike are responding to the positive aura brought by the Spaniard to North London.
One problem is that Arsenal have lost two games to two of their biggest rivals. If they are to be in with a shout, they need to be able to get wins over those, like Chelsea and Manchester City, who will be battling at the top of the table in April and May. Their toughest Premier League months could be November and December, as they play Man United, Spurs, Liverpool and Wolves. If his side can navigate their way through this tough run of fixtures, then Arsenal’s title charge would hold an added dimension of gravitas, and with the form of his players, the mood at the club and the potentially invaluable ability to slip under the radar, 2019 could truly be the year of Arsenal and Unai Emery.