Pundits be damned: Arsenal ARE title challengers - here's why

Arsenal Celebrate

Fixture list thus far has been cited as primary cause for their current standing, rather than their ability.

Despite Arsenal's attacking prowess this season, their standing at the summit of the Premier League and the destructive form of Per Mertesacker, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud, Monday Night Football pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, together with Michael Owen, refuse to label Arsene Wenger's side as title challengers.

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The Sky Sports crew displayed a graphic on screen which showed Arsenal's form this season… eight games played, six victories, one loss, one draw, 19 points from a possible 24 and a signature victory over Tottenham Hotspur together with, most recently, an awe-inspiring 4-1 winning performance against Norwich City. It is a string of results that sees them comfortably atop the Premier League, two points clear of Chelsea and Liverpool.

But, the form produced against those eight sides, seven of whom are in the bottom half of the table, needs to be taken into the context of last season, Messrs Neville and Carragher argued. The same fixtures last season produced eight triumphs and 24 points, clearly Arsenal have actually regressed.

Neville highlighted the breakout season Ramsey is enjoying: 'Is this the real deal? Is this the team now that can go on and win the championship? [Arsenal] are doing everything that’s being asked of them at this point in the league. There is confidence, belief, and look at Ramsey: he’s looking top class!'

Carragher was less impressed and stated that Arsenal just lack the winning experience to be able to maintain the run required to secure top spot for the remainder of the season: 'If this was Chelsea, Manchester United or Man City we’d all say they could win the league.

'But because [Arsenal have] gone so long without winning a trophy or really challenging for the championship we all get a little bit scared off.'

Neville's analysis is oft on-point and the former Manchester United defensive organiser's balanced and impartial insights are a breath of fresh air in live sports broadcasting in the UK. He is perhaps rightly just in asking questions of any team leading the division.

Carragher's doubts over Arsenal's ability to sustain a title challenge, though, is off… In Ozil, they have they have an accomplished playmaker who has challenged for La Liga with Real Madrid and the Bundesliga with Schalke 04.

See also: Carragher gains Arsenal fans: 'Top 4? Spurs will miss out' - is he right?

See also: Whisper it quiet: Barcelona want to raid Arsenal for young star, again

Per Mertesacker also challenged for the Bundesliga title with Werder Bremen, Thomas Vermaelen won the Eredivisie with Ajax, Tomas Rosicky won a hat-trick of Czech Ligas with Sparta Prague and the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, Olivier Giroud won Ligue 1 with Montpellier, Mathieu Flamini won a Scudetto with AC Milan and Lukas Podolski claimed a Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich and has 111 international caps with Germany.

The graphic is also an inaccurate barometer of success. If one judged last season's results as a method of forecasting performances in the subsequent campaign, Manchester United would not be loitering in mid-table and Southampton would not be doing as well as they are.

Arsenal can only compete against who they are lining up against and thus far this season they have been doing so admirably, however, to merely assess a team's strength after just eight games would be obtuse.

Examining the data available for the calendar year indicates that Arsenal would still be top of the league with 59 points accrued from 27 matches in 2013, winning 17, drawing five and losing four. 51 goals would have been scored, offset by 25 concessions.

Wenger's Gunners would also be five points clear of second-placed Chelsea, who would have 54 points after 27 matches in 2013, winning 16, drawing six and having lost five to date.

Arsenal have not just been consistent this season, but the whole year and, out of their last ten games in the 2012-13 Premier League season, they collected eight wins, two draws with no losses on their ledger. Since losing to Tottenham Hotspur in March, Arsenal exacted revenge earlier this season, but also drew with Manchester United at home and overcame the pressure-filled situation to beat Newcastle United away on the final day of the season to guarantee a route into the Champions League this term.

It is far more fashionable to criticise Wenger and Arsenal, though. Portraying the red-and-white side of North London as sexy does not sell copy. What does shift newspapers, though, is calling for Arsene's resignation, claiming an opening day loss against Aston Villa marks a crisis and that the club have no clue when it comes to trading during the summer market.

Michael Owen took it to another level a matter of weeks ago. He failed to recognise Arsenal as a clear challenger for the Premier League crown and even suggested they would be fortunate to secure their apparently weakening grasp on a top four spot - complete nonsense that come off as the gibberings of a mad hater.

In late September, Owen wrote a column for the Telegraph and, in it, he stated: 'When I look at [Arsenal's] squad I see a decent collection of players but not a top-four operation.'

Arsenal epitomise a top four operation - they have done so in every year Wenger has been in office. Finally, this season's shared confidence, their performances and momentum, suggest this is the season they may become more than that.

images: © Ronnie Macdonald

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