Has there really been a change at the Emirates or is this just the same old Arsenal?

The Gunners have gone 16 games unbeaten in all competitions, their best run of form since 2009. But are they really any closer to winning the title? Chas Newkey-Burden debates the issue… 

This time it's different: Arsenal are the real deal

With Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott supporting from out wide and Mesut Ozil pulling the strings, this is a purposeful and penetrative frontline

Mobile forward line

This season’s Alexis Sanchez-spearheaded forward line is a supple and fluid formation, in contrast to the one-tracked attack of the Olivier Giroud era, which was becoming clunky and predictable. With Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott supporting from out wide and Mesut Ozil pulling the strings, this is a purposeful and penetrative frontline.

The comeback kings

After going behind away to PSG and Ludogorets (and being pegged back by Sunderland), Arsenal fought back to grab a pair of fine wins and, in Paris, a crucial draw. In years gone by, Wenger’s teams would have folded in such circumstances. 

Sanchez equalises against PSG

Luck's in the air, too. The victories against Southampton and Burnley were brilliantly jammy, as was the draw in France. The Gunners were dubbed ‘Lucky Arsenal’ during the glory reigns of Herbert Chapman and George Graham, so the club's fans know how far a bit of good fortune can take you.  

Arsenal in pressing shocker!

The north Londoners are increasingly pressing their opponents, a tactic that Wenger’s more artisan teams of yesteryear tended not to deploy much. Walcott and Sanchez lead the pressure breathlessly from the front, backed by an agile and increasingly snappy midfield. 

Added muscle 

The arrivals of the robust Shkodran Mustafi and gnarly Granit Xhaka mean Arsenal can once again intimidate opponents with brawn as well as brain

During Wenger’s glory years, opponents admitted to feeling intimidated in the tunnel prior to kick-off. Patrick Vieira, Manu Petit, Tony Adams and Sol Campbell were daunting, combative foes, and even Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg and Dennis Bergkamp knew how to look after themselves.

More recently, Wenger's favoured politer, more placid ensembles, described as “teams of son-in-laws” by Graeme Souness and “pussyfooters” by Roy Keane. But the arrivals of the robust Shkodran Mustafi and gnarly Granit Xhaka mean Arsenal can once again intimidate opponents with brawn as well as brain.

Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka

Mustafi and Xhaka have brought steel to the Arsenal side

Fan unity

Arsenal followers have squabbled for years over whether Wenger should stay or go; last season, the bickering descended into a civil war featuring banners, universal self-righteousness and inter-Gooner punch-ups.

But now the fanbase seems united. Aside from a handful of point-scoring drones, the pro- and anti-Wenger brigades have put their differences aside to focus on – gasp – supporting the team.

Squad depth

Wenger was more thorough than usual in the summer transfer market, buying Mustafi, Xhaka, Rob Holding and Lucas Perez. He now has one of the deepest squads of his entire Arsenal reign, which means he's able to call upon a tactical plan B once more.

Lucas Perez

The signings of Lucas and others have added depth to the Gunners' squads

Hold your horses: considerable issues remain

Maintaining form throughout an actual football season has proved beyond them since they perfected it in the unbeaten campaign of 2003/04

A running theme 

Impressive runs are nothing new for Wenger teams, even in barren times. Arsenal led the table for much of the 2013/14 campaign but finished fourth, and were 'champions' of the 2015 calendar year without actually winning the league. Maintaining form throughout an actual football season has proved beyond them since they perfected it in the unbeaten campaign of 2003/04. So far, then, there's nothing new to see here. 

Repeats

The Gunners are following a familiar script in two other ways: a horrifying opening-day defeat followed by a redemptive run, and a sudden burst of manic form from Walcott, which may or may not last. We’ve seen these films before. 

Wenger’s punt 

The much-celebrated new forward line represents a gamble: should Sanchez get injured or lose his touch, there's no-one waiting in the wings to assume the role. Wenger would probably start with Giroud in that case, necessitating an overhaul of tactics which would likely lead to a demoralising return to a comparatively cumbersome approach. 

No cover for Cazorla

The Spaniard’s absence cost the Gunners dear last term and they are still weak creatively without their deep-lying playmaker, who's the quiet lynchpin of the team’s flowing performances. Jack Wilshere's the only player on the books who can thrive in a similar role, but he’s spending the campaign at Bournemouth. 

Jack Wilshere

Wilshere's short-term future is at the Vitality Stadium rather than the Emirates

Easy does it

Amid the frenzied excitement over the Gunners’ form, it's easy to overlook the fact that they've enjoyed a favourable run of fixtures; wins against the likes of Sunderland and Ludogorets can only be of limited use as long-term yardsticks. 

Of the three big teams Arsenal have faced (Liverpool, PSG and Chelsea) they’ve lost one, drawn one and won one. That’s not trophy-winning form. Even if you squeeze Tottenham and Leicester into the big-team equation, it only adds two more draws. 

Premature evaluations can prove a drag. Take the US election: at 2am the media was calling the election for Clinton, but by 5.30 Trump was knee-sliding towards the finishing line.   

The Verdict

An impressive run of results has generated praise aplenty for the Gunners, but Wenger's men looked mentally fragile against Spurs, while Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea are finding their own form. For Arsenal, the hype is writing cheques that calm analysis cannot yet cash.

Arsene Wenger

Will Wenger be holding another Premier League title next May?

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