Following a nightmarish beginning of the season, not even the most loyal Arsenal fans could have dreamed about their side becoming realistic top-four challengers.
Only two months ago, the Emirates outfit looked doomed, depleted and without a chance of mounting any challenge on a long-awaited top-four finish.
However, after losing their three Premier League matches in August by an aggregate score of 9-0, the Gunners have bounced back in emphatic fashion.
Fast forward two months, the Londoners are above a star-studded Manchester United and Antonio Conte’s Tottenham in the standings, only three points adrift of fourth-placed West Ham.
Barring a crushing 4-0 defeat to Liverpool on November 20, Mikel Arteta’s men have gone unbeaten in nine of their last ten top-flight matches, racking up seven wins in that period.
The Spanish manager has gone from the point of no return to becoming an architect of Arsenal’s mini-revival.
Indeed, Arteta has handed the Gunners supporters genuine hopes their team could land the coveted top-four finish for the first time since 2015/16.
With some of their rivals in freefall, Arsenal are now the bookmakers’ favourites to join Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in the top four this season. Bongdaso, one of the most popular sites in Vietnam covering football, has Arsenal as the betting favourites ahead of West Ham to finish in the top four this season.
Lack of European football is a blessing
Without the distraction of European football, Arsenal can turn their undivided attention to domestic affairs, a privilege their other top-four rivals are deprived of.
The extent of the promising Gunners’ impact of midweek inactivity is already well-documented.
In the Premier League matches played in the wake of European football, Arteta’s men have dropped a mere two points, having won four of five such fixtures.
That’s a stark contrast to Man United, Spurs, Leicester and West Ham, with the former two already giving up a whopping eight points apiece after European games.
A selection headache for Brendan Rodgers and David Moyes is looming, with the Foxes and the Hammers preparing for demanding Europa League knock-out commitments come the spring of 2022.
The same goes for the Red Devils, who are already lagging five points behind fourth-placed West Ham despite clinching a spot in the Champions League last-16.
High-profile games jinx
Arsenal have been ruthless against so-called ‘small teams’ this season, but high-profile matches have not been the Gunners’ strong suit so far.
Each of Arsenal’s three Premier League defeats this season have come at the hands of the ‘big four,’ with the likes of Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool putting 11 unanswered goals past Arteta’s team.
Going into their midweek trip to Old Trafford for a mouth-watering clash against Man United, the Londoners will have to dig deep and find performances that brought them clear-cut wins over Tottenham and Leicester.
A victory over underperforming rivals could be a season-defining moment for Arsenal, as it may see them kill two birds with one stone.
With West Ham suffering a dip in form, a potential failure against Brighton, if coupled with the Gunners’ win in Manchester, could catapult Arteta’s side into the top four for the first time this term.
At the same time, it would inflict a devastating psychological blow on the Red Devils, who are fighting tooth and nail to get their stop-start Premier League campaign up and running.
Emile Smith Rowe is not enough
It has been one hell of a season for Emile Smith Rowe so far, with the highly-rated youngster soaking up the limelight as the Arsenal headline performer.
The 21-year-old has been the Gunners’ driving force going forward, turning into a creative fulcrum of Arteta’s team while showing ‘killer instincts’ in front of goal.
Despite his tender age and lack of top-flight experience, Smith Rowe has already racked up four goals and two assists in the Premier League this term.
However, the kid needs help, and it should be up to his senior colleagues, namely Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to follow his example.
The Frenchman has faltered this season, scoring just a single Premier League goal, though it’s worth noting he’s registered just four league starts to date.
If Arsenal are to fight the likes of Man United, West Ham and Tottenham for a coveted fourth place, Lacazette has to step up to the plate and relieve some burden of Smith Rowe.
Meanwhile, Aubameyang has delivered a mixed bag of performances so far, with his showings depending on the surroundings.
The Gunners captain has tallied four Premier League goals this term, but he has yet to score away from home, which looks to be turning into a pattern.