Arsenal were out at 40/1 in Premier League winner odds before the season.
Searching for their first league title since their Invincibles campaign in 2003-04, the Gunners carried a five-point lead at the top of the table into the World Cup break.
Premier League betting odds now price Arsenal as second favourite for the Premier League title behind Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City silverware-collecting machine.
There is an element of master and the apprentice with Arteta trying to topple his former boss in Guardiola. The former, of course, has a must less costly squad, too.
Two of Arsenal’s biggest acquisitions in recent years were players deemed surplus to requirements by City in Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Arsenal have been ‘rebuilding’ for several years. The club took a step back during the beginning of the Emirates Stadium era, and has never been able to return to the top.
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Their best finish since 2004-05 was second in 2015-16, which was the most unusual of Premier League campaigns with Leicester winning the title.
It is six seasons since Arsenal finished in the top four. Arteta has made progress, winning the FA Cup in 2019-20 and accumulating 69 points in 2021-22.
The end of last term was a disappointment, however, with the Gunners blowing a golden opportunity to beat Tottenham to fourth.
We are now well over a decade since Arsenal could have been considered an elite club on the European stage. This current squad is yet to achieve anything of note despite signs of progress under the reign of Arteta.
It could be argued that recent club history and the track record of this group of players is irrelevant when discussing if they are title favourites. Experience matters, though.
Proven teams, managers and players are (rightly or wrongly) granted greater leeway. This is unchartered territory for Arsenal.
Arteta is a managerial novice in the high stakes of a title race, and our evidence that this is a league-winning calibre squad is still a small sample.
What They’ve Done So Far
Trying to project what this Arsenal team can do isn’t easy. Has this been the hottest of hot streaks? Why are they suddenly this good?
Arsenal averaged 1.82 points per match last season. In 2020-21, it was 1.61.
Last season, they won two and lost six of their matches against the top four. In those same fixtures in 2020-21, Arteta led his side to three wins and five losses.
Looking at 2022-23, there is a marked improvement in those matches, with wins against Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool. Their only loss thus far came against Manchester United.
They have recorded better results against weaker opponents too, but this simplistic way of measuring their results is one means to show what they have achieved already.
Of course, it must be noted that Chelsea and Liverpool have been far weaker than recent seasons.
Arsenal have won 12 of their 14 Premier League fixtures in 2022-23. Only City have scored more. No team has conceded fewer.
Those points on the board cannot be taken away. Arsenal are 11 points clear of fifth, which is a sizeable achievement as top four would have been a reasonable expectation heading into the season.
From that respect, the first section of this unusual campaign has been an overwhelming success, but with overachievement comes greater expectation.
Their +1.02 expected goal difference per 90 is that of an elite team. They are far clear of every side other than City, who come in at +1.17.
One statistic is not the be all and end all, but it speaks to what a challenge it is to beat City through a 38-match league season.
Is This Form Sustainable?
City have a far more talented squad. With the rigours of this condensed campaign and other competitions in 2023, City can call on established top-class depth. Arsenal do not have such a luxury.
While not to detract from their stellar campaign to date, the Gunners have ridden some favourable injury luck.
A few starters have missed time, but Gabriel Jesus’ injury suffered at the World Cup is the first core player to be ruled out for a significant period.
The Brazilian is set for a lengthy absence, which should force Arsenal into the transfer market.
Signings were needed in January regardless of the injury, though. If, and it is a sizeable ‘if’, Arsenal were to maintain anywhere close to City’s pace in the second half of this season, they needed to add a couple of players in the winter window.
City’s Title to Lose
The five-point advantage is meaningful. Such a margin has been sizeable in recent seasons with Liverpool and City setting such record-breaking standards, but it can be eliminated in a matter of days.
Arsenal, too, still have to face City twice in the league, which could erase that deficit even if the Gunners were perfect elsewhere.
Remaining in title contention into spring would be a success for Arsenal. This team has fast-forwarded to be sitting top of the pile with 14 games in the books.
Either there has been a real, rapid leap from fifth-placed side to title challenger or this is a step too far too soon.
Teams have great starts and fade every season. The statistics don’t indicate Arsenal will disappear down the standings immediately, yet it still feels like City’s league to lose despite the deficit.
Taking a month-plus break for the World Cup was always going to halt some teams. Arsenal could fall into that category, particularly with Jesus suffering an injury in Qatar.
If Arsenal maintain these results into February, then perhaps they can be considered the favourites. For now, though, this is too small a sample to have City as anything other than the team to beat.