Has the project banged? Arsenal have the opportunity to leave everyone with an emphatic feeling of, “yes indeed” with a win tonight versus Wolverhampton.
To make the quantum leap from potential top four scrappers to table toppers at Christmas — albeit only 14 games in — would be an immense surge for such a young squad. “It would be great,” said Mikel in his press conference when asked about the significance of being top at Christmas, “but our focus is to play better every single day and to try to play better tomorrow than we did against Chelsea. If we do that, our chances to win the game will increase and that’s where our focus is.”
Whether intentional or not, he was asked the same question later in his press conference and responded, “I don’t know, we are going to have to earn the right to do that tomorrow and that’s where we are.”
It’s the second or third time he’s used that phrase ‘right to win’ this year already, and it’s a mindset I believe is being thoroughly instilled into this young, overachieving side. The idea that your “best” may come and go, but you always have the ability to play at a level that earns you the right to win in this league. That you can do the right things, work hard, put in the work and receive what you earn, versus simply where your talent leaves you.
Arteta addressed that notion of “overachievement” saying, “what we tried to achieve is to play better every single day and I think we are making some strides towards that. I think the consistency level that we’ve shown is much better. Whether we can sustain that level or not is dictated game by game.”
I believe it’s hard to argue this team isn’t overachieving at the moment, they are literally pacesetting the league through the first two months and it’s a blistering pace at that. But the word ‘consistency’ is a major component and has played a large role in conversations surrounding this team for two years now, at times being a thorn in their side.
Overachievement, or achievement in general, isn’t done in the opening months of season. One stroll through Twitter discourse will remind you of that, as you trawl through the snide congrats on winning the league in October comments. No, achieving anything in this league demands elite levels of consistency across 9 months of play.
This isn’t American sports with playoffs in which teams are able to struggle early, put it together towards the end, and find red-hot form for the playoffs to win everything. Games in August are worth the exact same as games in May, even though it’s simply impossible not to attach more emotional value to them.
We, of course, all know this — even if we need some reminding in the heat of “must-win March” — but it’s why collecting 34 points in the first 13 matches can’t be underscored enough. It’s why getting the job done tonight and making it 37 points in the first 14 matches would be an absolute statement. The foundations being built here are already propelling Arsenal’s chances of achievement forward.
At 37 points, Arsenal would be half-way to the 74pt mark that took 3rd last season (Chelsea) after just 14 matches, and they’d be on pace (2.64ppg) to net 100 points in a season.
Whether Arsenal maintain this consistency or not, this explosive start has done roughly half the work they need to at least achieve their goal of returning to Champions League and it has rightfully opened the door to dream bigger. Beating Wolves will complete this first phase of the season on the right note, it’ll leave every Arsenal fan with a pleasant taste in their mouth heading into a month-and-a-half long break, and I think the team has earned the right to be in first at the end of it.
Manchester City is looming, they will continue to loom, and feet to the fire to make a rash call, yeah, one week they may very well surpass Arsenal and not look back. But Arsenal can finish strong and make a real statement to this league — at the “halfway” point — that they intend to bring these levels of performance and consistency all the way through.
There are plenty of things to improve on and iron out. Finishing, depth, fitness, the comfort level those depth players and new players have with this system, just to name a few. I, personally, believe this break presents an opportunity to work on a few things and have players like Vieira embed themselves further. They get in the weight room, rest and recover, stay sharp with a few well-placed friendlies and hopefully come shooting out of the gates after a “second preseason” just like they did to start the Premier League season.
January will be a mystery to many teams awaiting to see the toll the World Cup takes, but one thing is for sure — entering it in the driver’s seat is a whole lot better than 40 days of looking at Manchester City’s butt every time we nervously glance at the table. Finish strong, Gunners!