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Arsenal have flipped the script after 22/23 bottlejob and summer buy (not Rice) can sway title race

Arsenal have flipped the script after 22/23 bottlejob and summer buy (not Rice) can sway title race

Arsenal burned out after an electrifying first half to the 2022/23 season and ultimately bottled winning the Premier League title. But that pattern has been flipped, which bodes very well in their quest for a first league title in two decades.

The intense emotion of fighting for a title takes its toll on people in different ways; Kevin Keegan’s “I would love it if we beat them” comes to mind. That off-pitch meltdown contributed to probably the worst bottle-job of all.

READ: The top 10 biggest Premier League title bottle jobs

For 22/23 Arsenal, though, the mental strength was not there in the end, they were emotionally drained, and Mikel Arteta had to deal with a couple of critical, ill-timed injuries.

Luckily for Arsenal, they are much better prepared to go all the way this time around having flipped the script, going into the run-in with a bigger, better, healthier squad, and can use the pain of last season to make sure they finish with a sprint rather than a stumble.

Last term, the Gunners dropped points in two(!) league matches before the turn of the year, making light work of teams they were found wanting against the year before. The opening-day victory at Crystal Palace set the tone, having been battered 3-0 at Selhurst Park on the way to throwing away a top-four place to Tottenham.

On course for a 100-point season, the wheels then started to fall off with defeat at Everton, a draw at home to Brentford, and failure in a crucial clash against title rivals Manchester City at the Emirates.

A dramatic 4-2 win at Aston Villa helped get their title challenge back on track, but it eventually went Pete Tong, with one 2-2 draw having led 2-0 being followed by another. There was then a confusing and dismal showing against relegation fodder Southampton, and a non-contest at Manchester City, condemning them to 7-2 aggregate defeat to Pep Guardiola’s side in the Premier League.

Gary Neville was mocked and criticised for suggesting Arsenal’s celebrations during the run-in were ill-considered, but he might have had a point. After all, he won a few pots and pans during his playing career.

In 2023/24, Arsenal have celebrated their wins as any side should. Jamie Carragher’s “You’ve won, get down the tunnel” was clearly fuelled by bitterness, not Neville’s genuine concern when warning Oleksandr Zinchenko against tooting his horn in the streets of north London.

Arsenal are definitely showing more maturity in 2024, but the truth is that they have not been winning games in quite such a dramatic fashion as last season. That’s because they are a better, more complete team.

The signing of Declan Rice plays a massive part. He has been frighteningly good in midfield, making the absence of Thomas Partey a footnote to the campaign.

While Rice has been the best player in the Premier League this season, there’s another new signing that makes this title challenge more bulletproof.

That man is Jurrien Timber, who has played just one half of competitive football for his new team.

The Dutch defender is likely to feature for Arsenal after the international break after recovering from an ACL injury suffered in his side’s opening league fixture at home to Nottingham Forest.

His return is not only significant because he is an excellent footballer capable of playing anywhere across the back four, but because it gives Arteta the security he did not have last season, which ultimately cost him dear.

William Saliba was arguably the best defender in England last season and the injury he picked up in a Europa League match against Sporting in March was the biggest factor in Arsenal’s inability to fend off eventual Treble winners Manchester City.

Any side would have missed the presence of Saliba, especially considering the formidable relationship he formed with Gabriel Magalhaes, but it was the fact his replacement was Rob Holding that made it all the more detrimental.

There will be none of that this time around if Saliba or Gabriel are injured; Jakub Kiwior is a lot better than he was a few months ago, let alone last March, and Timber is a player in a different stratosphere to Holding. The ex-Ajax man could even slip into right-back, which would see the brilliant Benjamin White play in the middle.

Takehiro Tomiyasu is another player who should be available for the run-in after missing the end of last season thanks to an injury sustained in the same match as Saliba, but it is the presence of Timber that is the biggest difference to last season’s quest for glory, and the depth Arteta will have at his disposal symbolises the flipped script after the 22/23 burnout.

They have gone from blowing teams away in the first half of the season to being a more measured team and undoubtedly stronger out of possession. The difference in play between August and January has lifted the pressure that helped Arsenal crumble last time around and has helped them simmer along nicely, before coming good at the right time, which is a pattern we usually see from City.

It is vitally important that Arteta and his players continue their momentum. They are better equipped to do so and despite the title race being a lot tighter in March 2024 than it was in March 2023, there is more confidence among the Arsenal supporters that this is their year.

Just the small matter of Manchester City away next. Eek.

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