Mikel Arteta is making Arsenal doubters believe, while his predecessor, Unai Emery, has unfinished business in the Premier League.
It was a good day for the Gunners managers past and present as Arsenal returned to the top of the table with a 1-0 win against Chelsea yesterday and Aston Villa shocked Manchester United 3-1 in Emery’s first game in charge. Arsenal have 34 points and Manchester City are second with 32.
Victory at Villa Park saw Emery savor victory, at the earliest opportunity, with his new club, something the Spaniard had failed to achieve in his previous seven games with Arsenal. That race ultimately saw Emery replaced by Arteta.
Emery has returned to England three years later to see his former team transformed.
Arsenal’s win against Chelsea was the ultimate test of their title credentials. Victory in the final round of games before the World Cup will ensure Arsenal are top of the table by Christmas, with the domestic calendar set to resume on December 26.
The celebrations at Manchester City after a late 2-1 win against Fulham on Saturday underscored the level of threat Arteta’s Arsenal pose to the reigning champions.
And when Gabriel pounced after 63 minutes at Stamford Bridge, he reinforced the growing belief that Arsenal can hold up a real challenge.
“Individually, collectively, that’s the best I’ve seen from an Arsenal team in years,” former defender Martin Keown told BT Sport. “Desire, tenacity, hunger, everything is there. They are ready to win.”
Arsenal fans have experienced many false dawns in the past, but a run of 11 wins from 13 matches at the start of the season has set a pace that not even City can match.
It’s not that Arteta is ready to publicly declare that his team is in contention for the title.
“Just look at the last six years, what Manchester City has done,” he said. “With the best coach in the world, the best team in the world.
“They have shown it consistently in every competition. We have to be very, very respectful of that.”
Emery hopes to earn the respect he didn’t always have when he was in charge of Arsenal.
A manager with nine major trophies to his name lasted just 18 months at the Emirates Stadium and was largely written off as a failure.
The rehabilitation of his reputation in England could not have got off to a better start, with Villa leading 2-0 against United in 11 minutes. Jamaican Leon Bailey opened the scoring in the seventh minute and Lucas Digne scored in the 11th. Manchester United recovered a goal in the 45th minute when Aston Villa’s Jacob Ramsay deflected a shot into his own net. Four minutes after the break, Ramsay scored to put his team up 3-1.
“I think we took the first step today,” Emery said afterward. “I am privileged to be here and beat them.
“It’s just a step, and we have to achieve regularity, and we have to achieve consistency in the next matches, at home and away. We have a lot of work to do.”