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It’s a Christmas surprise! Arsenal are title contenders

Arsene Wenger is quietly confident of Arsenal's chances of winning the league this season. Photo courtesy: The Mirror
Arsene Wenger is quietly confident of Arsenal's chances of winning the league this season. Photo courtesy: The Mirror
Arsene Wenger is quietly confident of Arsenal’s chances of winning the league this season. Photo courtesy: The Mirror

The rat pack is catching up, and there is an unexpected leader.

If Leicester City opening up a five-point gap at the top of a league described by Louis Van Gaal as a “rat race” was unthinkable at the beginning of the season, the team that are closest to pipping them to the post are another unlikely member of the ‘Big Five’ – Arsenal.

A team that has under-performed so spectacularly ever since their incredible run of defeat-less games more than 10 years ago has seemingly taken inspiration from the only club above them on the table. Leicester’s astonishing campaign has only been mirrored by Arsenal’s return to form. Arsene Wenger’s Gunners, so often ridiculed for being a team perennially under construction, now look like the finished product.

And it’s not all pass-pass, either.

For the nearly two decades of Arsene Wenger’s reign, Arsenal have been accused of being uni-dimensional. Their style of play, undoubtedly attractive, only involved passing their way around opponents and through on goal. Against Bayern Munich, and now against City, Arsenal have shown they are deadly on the counter-attack, too – a facet in their play that will hold them in good stead in the games to come.

Another statistic that Arsene Wenger will be proud of is the one that flashed on screen at half time: Arsenal, 2 shots on goal, 2 on target, 2 goals. It is this kind of efficiency, which if they can keep up, that will take Arsenal close to winning the Premier League title this season.

Mesut Ozil, the man who has carried Arsenal so far this season, is lifted up in the air by Olivier Giroud, who has benefited from the German's brilliance. Photo courtesy: The Guardian
Mesut Ozil, the man who has carried Arsenal so far this season, is lifted up in the air by Olivier Giroud, who has benefited from the German’s brilliance. Photo courtesy: The Guardian

Mesut Ozil continues to impress as the league’s best playmaker; he has now contributed towards 15 of Arsenal’s goals, including both in this game, first setting up Theo Walcott and then Olivier Giroud.

As far as finishers go, Olivier Giroud is in the form of his life, and his confidence at the moment was on display when he reacted quickly to latch on to an Ozil pass following a bad clearance by Eliaquim Mangala. The Frenchman then coolly slotted the ball past a despairing Nicolas Otamendi and under the legs of goalkeeper Joe Hart.

This, the most unpredictable of seasons, has brought with it a fair share of contrasts. Arsenal spent 10 million pounds in the summer (to secure the services of Petr Cech); the rest of the Premier League spent 849 million pounds more. Arsenal’s starting XI cost less than City’s bench.

Of course, more than half a season is still left to play. Arsenal have to face Liverpool, Chelsea, Leicester Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Manchester City again before the season runs out, and it is anybody’s guess where the Gunners will end up.

But Arsene Wenger will believe, with the kind of quality at his disposal, this is finally his year.

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