Arsenal haven't bottled the Premier League title - but Mikel Arteta must act NOW to get back on track

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Granit Xhaka Mikel Arteta Arsenal 2022-23 Premier League 16:9
The Gunners have been knocked off top spot in the Premier League by Manchester City after three games without a win but all is not lost...

How quickly football can change.

Less than two weeks ago Arsenal sat with a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League table but now, within a blink of the eye, they are trailing Manchester City on goal difference, having picked up just one point from a possible nine.

Mikel Arteta’s early pacesetters had an opportunity to make the ultimate statement on Wednesday night when they welcomed Pep Guardiola’s reigning champions to Emirates Stadium

Victory would have seen them move six points clear with a game in hand. But instead the 3-1 defeat saw them knocked off top spot for the first time since August and raised more doubts over their ability to stay the course during the title race.

The usual online slurs are already doing the rounds, with many saying Arsenal have ‘bottled it’ and that the season is now suddenly over. Both are suggestions that Arteta vehemently denies.

“Psychologically, there is a marathon still,” Arsenal’s manager said after the City defeat. “There is very far to go. 

“I said it at the start, I said it three months ago and I say it today, it’s about tomorrow. The most important thing is how we are tomorrow and focus on that.”

  1. Arsenal have been the hunted, now they are the hunters
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    Arsenal have been the hunted, now they are the hunters

    Arsenal have led the way in the Premier League for so long that it feels strange now not to see them at the top of the table.

    It’s a position they’ve occupied after each round of fixtures since they beat Bournemouth 3-0 back in August, on the third weekend of the season.

    The narrative has now been flipped on its head, though, and it will be interesting to see how Arteta and his players react.

    Arsenal have been the hunted for so long, but now they are the hunters. How they deal with that new challenge is going to be key to their chances in the title race.

    Suggestions that they have ‘bottled it’ are, of course, laughable. Arteta’s young side have done remarkably well to get themselves into the position they are in and let’s not forget they still do have that game in hand over City.

    There is plenty of football still to be played, but Arsenal have clearly hit their first real bump in the road and it’s vital that Arteta finds a way of restoring his team’s belief following their sticky spell, which has seen them pick up eight points from 18.

    They can’t afford to let that run continue because if they do, City will be out of sight in a flash.

  2. Changes are needed
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    Changes are needed

    It has felt for some time now that Arteta needs to shake things up a bit when it comes to his team selection.

    Players that have been performing so well this season have started to struggle, with Gabriel Martinelli a prime example.

    The Brazilian has yet to score in 2023 and has failed to make any sort of positive impact in recent games.

    Bringing in Leandro Trossard for his first Premier League start at Aston Villa on Saturday feels inevitable and could hopefully add a spark to an Arsenal attack that has lost its cutting edge in recent weeks.

    There is an argument to suggest Kieran Tierney could make an impact at left-back, a switch that could potentially allow Oleksandr Zinchenko to move into a midfield position and allow Granit Xhaka a rest.

    Aside from the enforced change on Wednesday night when Jorginho had to replace the injured Thomas Partey, Arteta has named the same starting XI in every league game since the return from the World Cup.

    So, it is no real surprise that some of his players appear jaded.

    Arteta does not have the largest of squads, but he does have players who can come in and potentially make a difference. It feels like now is the time for him to give them the opportunity they have been awaiting.

  3. Two defining weeks

    Two defining weeks

    The next fortnight will be so crucial to Arsenal’s hopes of staying in the title race.

    They are still firmly in contention, despite the City setback, but they have to get themselves back on track quickly.

    Arteta’s side have two tricky away games coming up now. They travel to Aston Villa on Saturday before visiting Leicester City the following weekend. 

    They then host Everton on Wednesday, March 1 for what will be their long-awaited game in hand.

    Arsenal have to pick themselves quickly to keep pace with City during this period. 

    If they find themselves trailing the champions by any kind of significant distance after that Everton game, then they will find it very difficult to make up the ground on such formidable front-runners.

  4. Partey's fitness will be key
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    Partey's fitness will be key

    Aside from the poor recent run of results, the big worry now is the fitness of Thomas Partey.

    It was a hammer blow to lose the midfielder in the build-up to the Manchester City game and there was no doubt he was missed, despite Jorginho stepping in and performing well.

    Partey is so crucial to how Arsenal play, both in terms of his ability to protect the defence and progress the ball forward quickly, so it’s vital that he can get him back as quickly as possible.

    The early signs are that the muscle injury is nothing serious, but we’ve seen Partey sidelined for weeks due to thigh issues in the past and should that be the case this time around, then Arsenal will struggle to replace him.

  5. Jesus can still make a difference

    Jesus can still make a difference

    Arsenal do have the prospect of Gabriel Jesus returning in the near future, however, and the Brazilian's comeback can’t come soon enough.

    Eddie Nketiah has stepped up well in Jesus’ absence, but the 23-year-old has struggled in recent weeks and missed some big chances against Manchester City.

    While Jesus was far from prolific himself before his knee injury, his work-rate and clever movement was crucial to Arsenal’s attack and generating space for others.

    Arsenal are clearly in need of that kind of creativity in their frontline and Nketiah could do with someone coming in and taking the pressure off him for a bit.

    Jesus is now back working with the ball at his feet and has been out on the training pitches at London Colney.

    He has yet to return to full training, however, and one of Arsenal’s main focuses right now has to be on having that happen as soon as possible.

    If Arteta's side can stay in touch at the top of the table until Jesus is up to speed, then they still have a great chance of going on and doing something very special this season.

    What's happened during the past fortnight has hit Arsenal hard, but there is no need for them to panic and that is the message that Arteta has to drill into his players ahead of the trip to Villa Park.

    There is a long way to go this season and, as Arteta pointed out in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday night's defeat at the Emirates, it's a marathon, not a sprint.