Arsenal’s hunger and fire as they chase a first Premier League title in nearly two decades is burning so bright that Pep Guardiola has been driven to hold it up as an example to his conquering Manchester City.
When Guardiola launched an angry broadside in all directions to provoke an improvement in the defending champions after City’s 4-2 win over Tottenham, Arsenal were the name that played on his lips with regularity.
It was the most significant indicator of Arsenal’s progress and growing maturity under former right-hand man Mikel Arteta that Guardiola made it clear who he saw as his serious title rivals – even warning that they ” would destroy’ City unless they improve.
And if anyone had any doubts as to exactly why Guardiola issued his warning, they need only look at how Arsenal secured the magnificent victory over Manchester United’s improvement in a thriller at the ‘Emirates Stadium.
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Simple statistics indicate that Arsenal’s 3-2 win, secured by Eddie Nketiah’s 90th-minute goal, puts them five points clear of City with a game less.
Dig deeper, however, and the wider significance of Arsenal overcoming a United side heading firmly in the right direction under manager Erik ten Hag becomes clear.
Arsenal, in the eyes of those who have seen them wither under pressure in recent years, must prove themselves as the weeks go by. The good news for increasingly optimistic Gunners fans dreaming of a first title since 2003-04’s ‘The Invincibles’ is that Arteta and his players are delivering it.
Why should there be any lingering doubts about the pedigree of a side that have won 16 and lost just one of their first 19 league games, with Sunday’s win setting the record straight against the only team to beat them in the top flight this season?
And there were other factors at work that made Arsenal their biggest test this season and, arguably, their biggest win.
Manchester City’s response to Guardiola’s demands, a comfortable 3-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, meant Arsenal could feel the champions on their shoulders with all the pressure that brought.
And when Marcus Rashford sent Manchester United in front with a stunning low strike after just 17 minutes, it disrupted the mood around the Emirates Stadium, although Arsenal fans instantly turned up the volume to inspire a comeback.
Their call was answered with Nketiah’s equalizer and even when Lisandro Martinez equalized Bukayo Saka’s goal, Arsenal demonstrated another side to their character which answered the questions raised in recent weeks.
Arsenal and manager Arteta let themselves be dragged into a goalless draw by attrition at home to Newcastle United in early January, with a frayed temper and lost discipline.
Arteta was shown a yellow card for a first-half outburst here but when the acid test came the Arsenal players had their emotions under control and showed no signs of title pressure as They remained calm, creating chances until poacher Nketiah came into the six-yard box to send Emirates Stadium wild.
It matched the drama of the day that Arsenal’s goal celebrations were subjected to the torture of a VAR check for offside before a thundering sound was fully released.
There was an added bonus to Arsenal’s joy because those three points were earned, deservedly, against an improving Manchester United. A draw would have been disappointing but not devastating, such was the task ahead of Arsenal.
The strength of Manchester City’s squad can still have a decisive impact on this title race, but Arsenal’s Nketiah has stepped out of the shadows to play a vital role in the absence of injured Gabriel Jesus, who has been so central to Arsenal’s style in the months leading up to the World Cup. Cup.
Nketiah seized his chance and more, his two goals here as he netted 13 in his last 13 home starts.
And while Jesus may be sidelined for some time to come, Arsenal have another crucial piece of title-winning know-how imported from Manchester City to Oleksandr Zinchenko, including the ability to link defence, midfield and the attack in his game package makes him invaluable for Arteta.
There are also reinforcements for Arsenal’s title challenge.
Arteta introduced Leandro Trossard, Brighton’s new €21million signing, late as Poland defender Jakob Kiwior watched from the stands ahead of formalities for his €21million transfer from Serie A club Spezia.
Arsenal faced similar scrutiny when they traveled to Tottenham for the North London derby seven days before and produced equally compelling evidence that Manchester City may only have two chances of derailing the Gunners’ title when they play in London on February 15. in Manchester on April 26.
The dates both look set to be circled in red on the calendar as Guardiola will increasingly feel like he cannot look to others for help given Arsenal’s irresistible form.
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