With Manchester United and Liverpool both dropping points last weekend, the top of the Premier League table now sees Arsenal clear by 4 points after 12 games.
Few would have predicted that at this point in the campaign - yet Arsenal seem to found resilience and drive over the course of the summer that has been missing for a number of years. Having played all 3 of the bottom 3 clubs already though - a number of critics have suggested that Arsenal could be flattering to deceive and that December will prove a much sterner test of their title credentials.
With games against Manchester City and Chelsea included before the New Year - Arsenal certainly will be tested to a scale that they have not yet experienced in the Premier League this season (and no - Manchester United are not in that category – yet.)
However there is a much earlier test looming for Arsenal - as on Saturday they travel to a team who took points off Manchester United last week. Arsenal have been successful in Wales in the past – but how will they get on against newly promoted Cardiff?
Whilst Cardiff haven’t taken the league by storm in their first Premiership season - they have had some big results at home (by beating Manchester City and fierce rivals Swansea), and whilst I’m sure that they will be safe at the end of the season they will need to step up their away form to ensure their safety.
Interestingly though (and probably crucially come the end of the season), Cardiff have not yet played a team placed below 11th in the table at home. And this means that in the 2nd half of the season a lot of winnable games will be played in Cardiff’s favour.
Over the course of their home games this season Cardiff have averaged scoring over a goal a game – unfortunately though their conceding record stands at exactly the same level and with a completely split home record of wins, losses and draws it’s hard to tell which Cardiff will turn up – but the result against Manchester United last week will certainly make it harder now for Arsenal as the Cardiff spirits have been lifted.
Arsenal meanwhile are in an interesting place. They are winning games that they would have drawn in previous seasons and whilst they haven’t had the hardest run so far, they find themselves in first place.
December though will be a hard month (and points will be dropped) which is why a victory against Cardiff is vitally important - and on current form Arsenal will be hard to stop. Arsenal’s away form this season is the best in the Premier League's having lost just once (at Old Trafford) on the road.
Nearly two goals a game on average are scored away from home whilst less than a goal a game is conceded. And on top of that – Arsenal have already been away to Swansea this season and got a result.
At the moment, there is no good time to play Arsenal - and Cardiff would have been hoping for Marseille to have given them a harder test midweek.
Arsenal will know that they need to get a result in this game to keep momentum going and to give them an extra buffer for December – but Cardiff (especially following last week) will definitely not be push over’s.
Prediction: Cardiff 1 – Arsenal 3
Oh – and they used to say that it wasn’t possible to win the league without beating the big teams - so for the sake of argument here let’s say that the big teams this time around are the Manchester clubs and Chelsea. That’s a total of 18 points that Arsenal could drop by not beating any of those teams. So now let’s have some context - Manchester United have already dropped 15 points this campaign.
It’s now more than ever the form against the smaller clubs that makes the difference. Arsenal’s is very impressive – but will it last?
image: © joncandy