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Arsenal: Why the Gunners could be dark horses for top four this season

(Image credit: Getty)

Whisper it, but are Arsenal... back? After the first three games of the season, you could perhaps only see them getting top four if they were to get relegated to the Championship.

But Mikel Arteta's ideas are finally becoming clear. The results are starting to match the performances and for the first time in nearly two years under the Spaniard, Arsenal are controlling games, taking their chances and not shooting themselves in the foot quite so much.

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Is it beyond the realms of possibility that the Gunners could sneak into top-four contention - especially with Manchester United faltering?

1. The backline is better than ever

It's a cliche that Arsenal are weak defensively, stemming from the post-Invincible days of Johan Djourou and Sebastian Squillaci. Against all odds, however, Arteta has found a winning combination in his backline.

Ben White was lambasted on the first day for being bullied by Ivan Toney, though has gradually become a reliable force in defence, bringing the ball out and looking confident in possession. Takehiro Tomiyasu has been an excellent acquisition too, offering physicality next to White, while Gabriel has ironed out weaknesses in his game to become the leader of the pack.

And that's without touching on the excellent Aaron Ramsdale, mocked over the summer for his transfer fee, who has been commanding, calm and a revelation in possession between the sticks. Even Nuno Tavares, standing in for Kieran Tierney, has added a little competition to the left-back spot.

Finally, Arsenal look good in defence once more after years of Shkodran Mustafi. But it's not just how good they are at defending - they all look brilliant on the ball. The mistakes in possession around their own box are slowly disappearing. 

2. Aubameyang is back to his best


(Image credit: Getty)

A three-year contract dished out to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last season looked particularly short-sighted, as the Arsenal captain approaches his twilight years. He looked tired last campaign, slower and blunter, and he even missed the North London Derby due to a disciplinary issue. 

But he's bounced back and then some this season - and it's not just in the goals he's scored. Aubameyang has been back on the scoresheet but his all-round centre-forward play has been exemplary this term; it's the little things, like the way he leads the press with more vigour, or the flicks and touches he makes to Emile Smith Rowe in transition when Arsenal counter.

The summer break has left Auba refreshed and raring to go. Arteta called on him to become a leader in every sense of the word this time around - and he's certainly living up to that.

3. There are no other distractions

Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City all have Champions League football this season. Leicester City, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur all play on Thursday nights.

European hangovers are not something that Arsenal need to concern themselves with for the first time in a generation. There isn't the worry that this smaller squad is going to burn itself out trying to get back into the Champions League through two different competitions - they have just three games across the whole of November, for example.

And some of Arsenal's key cornerstones don't have international football to play either: White, Gabriel, Smith Rowe and Lacazette are all due to stick around during the break. There's one focus for Arteta's side this time.

4. Saka and Smith Rowe are delivering

Saka and Smith Rowe

(Image credit: Getty)

Ask any Arsenal fan their favourite player and they'll probably tell you one of two academy graduates, who have inherited the no.10 and no.7 shirts. Bukayo Saka was already a superstar: now they have another in Smith Rowe.

And while the young Guns have been excellent to watch this season, they've backed it up with their output. Saka's slow start to the season on the lefthand side has burst into flame since he's moved back to the right; Smith Rowe already has five goals and assists to his name. 

The two of them are starting to produce the goods and not just look like stars of the future: they're names to hang your hat on in the present. 

5. There could be another gear yet to come

The best thing about a young team is that in theory, they're only going to get better. And that's definitely true of this Arsenal side. 

Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah have enormous talent - yet neither have been involved much in the league this season. Smith Rowe and Saka are still improving, Thomas Partey is still finding his feet and Albert Sambi Lokonga is looking like a shrewd purchase already. We still haven't seen the best of Martin Odegaard, either.

There's definitely more to come from this Arsenal side, as it matures and gains confidence. This young side have already proven a few people wrong already, after all...

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