With a suspect Arsenal defense to open the season, the world watched as Liverpool battered Arsene Wenger‘s squad on Opening Day, a 4-3 loss that had the #WengerOut crowd foaming at the mouth, perhaps justly.
This was a manager who hadn’t exactly buoyed the confidence of his fans, and in fact had given his detractors more fuel. The same man who lamented the fee paid for Anthony Martial last year only to see the young Frenchman shine for his rivals was lamenting the ineffectiveness of “Financial Fair Play”.
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A funny thing happened, though, on the way to the Champions League group stage; We saw a confident Wenger carry a bit of a strut en route to Paris, claiming readiness to succeed in ways the Gunners hadn’t in a while.
On Saturday, after a rollicking 3-0 home win over Arsenal earned his side a standing ovation from the Emirates Stadium crowd, Wenger was beaming at his side’s “style and steel“.
And as our own Joe Prince-Wright heard in his post-match comments, the man celebrating his 20th year running Arsenal has an increased appetite for success. He was asked how his hunger compares to when he began his time at Arsenal.
“I’m hungrier because I know I don’t have 20 years in front of me, and as well because I feel more responsibility. I’m more conscious of what’s all about Arsenal. The weight of keeping people happy is heavier than when I arrived.”
And rightly so. After drawing at Leicester City on Matchday 2, Arsenal is 4-0 in the Premier League, 1-0 in the EFL Cup, and showed terrific heart in drawing on the road at Paris Saint-Germain.
While the money he paid for new players Shkrodan Mustafi, Lucas Perez, and Granit Xhaka wasn’t a pittance, the moves are looking shrewd right now. And the cupboard has been stocked with stars who were on show Saturday, including standout days for Hector Bellerin and Mesut Ozil.
When I was researching numbers for my post on Pep Guardiola’s hot start at Manchester City, I couldn’t help but be surprised at how many times Arsenal’s name was showing up either on their heels or leading in key offensive and possession categories.
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Arsenal has a very forgiving schedule in the lead-up to a brutal November, and can build itself a cushion in the competition for a Top Four spot before a 17-day stretch that sees it hosting Spurs and PSG with a visit to Manchester United in between.
Wednesday — HOME vs. Basel (UCL)
Oct. 2 — at Burnley
Oct. 15 — HOME vs. Swansea
Oct. 19 — HOME vs. Ludogorets (UCL)
Oct. 22 — HOME vs. Middlesbrough
Oct. 25 — HOME vs. Reading (EFL Cup)
Oct. 29 — at Sunderland
Gooners will be begging their side to give them 12-straight points, and a strong UCL performance could even render the PSG match in November more about positioning than advancement.
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In the meantime, Man City will be heading to Tottenham and hosting Everton amongst its fixtures, while Liverpool tangles with Manchester United. Those Red Devils also have to face Chelsea in October.
Wenger’s no fool: He’s seen the fixtures. Arsenal is primed to be atop or close to the top of the table in early November. With PSG slipping a bit in league play, perhaps a UCL slip-up could have the Gunners atop their group before that November match-up.
It’s too soon to talk title, but watching Arsenal on Saturday was to be reminded of the best times under Wenger.
And to imagine what could be come May.