Former Arsenal defender Lauren insists the Gunners are in far better shape to mount a Premier League title challenge this season to their near-miss of twelve months ago. 

"This Arsenal team have gained so much experience from last year. Last year, we only had Gabriel Jesus, Zinchenko and Jorginho who had been in this position before, fighting for the title. And handling that kind of pressure is not easy.

"I believe with their summer signings they are stronger. We have a great squad and Arteta and Edu have a great understanding. They have identified what the team needed and the players have bought into the mentality and philosophy that Arteta wants.

"Therefore I believe that the team is ready to compete and the team is ready to be up there. They are more mature and can challenge until the end of the season. They just have to focus and commit."

Mention of their summer recruits naturally brings us to Declan Rice, the midfielder having put in an exceptional performance just 24 hours earlier against football prediction rivals Manchester United.

By some distance the most expensive of a quartet of new faces, the 24-year-old is already proving his worth and, perhaps too, is well on his way to becoming a legend at the Emirates.

"Rice has been playing in the top-flight for quite a long time, and for the England national team. He has won a European trophy with West Ham. He knows he is a top player. I was watching him yesterday and he was talking to everyone. This didn’t surprise me."

Still, Lauren suspects there are even better things to come.

"I would like to see him be more box-to-box, get closer to the strikers, to have more shots and score more goals. I would love to see him have that role in the long-term."

Not that scoring goals is a problem for the Gunners, notching an impressive 88 in the league last term, and averaging two-per-game so far as we head into an international break.

On the left, Gabriel Martinelli torments full-backs for kicks, while up front Eddie Nketiah has deputized excellently for the injured Gabby Jesus. For the Cameroonian Invincible however, there is one attacking talent who shines brighter than the rest.

"Bukayo Saka is a top boy. What I like about him is he is humble and intelligent. He knows what he is doing and has his feet on the ground. He is a top-class player.

"What impresses me is that he is maintaining his consistency, and that is not easy at a big club. He takes on the responsibility of being one of the best players in the Premier League and he is doing it week in, week out. This is fantastic for a player his age."

If Lauren is a fan of the England international, we can double that for Arsenal’s orchestrator-in-chief Martin Odegaard.

"A lovely player, a lovely boy. He has a straightforward mentality and his ability is huge. He can score goals and dictate the game. He finds the spaces and has such quality. He is a fantastic player.

He’s a lovely boy and that is important when you have that right balance. And there is much more to come from him. 

He is so ambitious on the pitch and is always asking for the ball. He gets in the right positions to damage the opponent but he defends too, always helping the defenders. Odegaard is superb."

Having twice brought the Premier League title to North London, Lauren knows exactly what is needed to top the pile after ten demanding months and though stand-out individuals of course play a major role, ultimately it’s the outstanding work of a manager that counts the most. 

Does the ex-player-turned-fan admire how Mikel Arteta has dramatically transformed a side that used to see a top four spot as their main objective.  

"Arteta is admired by everyone at the club, by the fans, the players and the whole squad. When you go to the Emirates, you feel that.

"I was talking to Arteta pre-season and he has such determination and dedication to succeed and what he has done is got the Arsenal fans to believe. He has brought back Champions League football and won the Community Shield against Man City. He has been brilliant, Arteta."

Undoubtedly so. Yet, for all of the remarkable improvements he has overseen, the coach has not been immune from criticism, with some claiming he can be overly animated on the touchline, a trait that has even been partly attributed to Arsenal’s late-season stumbles in recent seasons. 

Having heard it all said before, Lauren holds little stock with the theory.

"I don’t think Arteta is too emotional. First of all, he is Spanish so we have to expect that. It’s the Latin blood. If you told me this team is a youth team, an under-16 team, then yes it would be a problem.

"But we’re talking about professionals, and these professionals are playing at the highest level, under the most pressure, and no matter what the manager is saying or doing on the touchline, you have to make your own decisions on the pitch.

"For me, this is nonsense, to say Arsenal didn’t win the Premier League because the players and Arteta were too emotional."

Still on a high from seeing his side triumph at the weekend, Lauren is also in no mood to hear of another hypothesis, that expectations at the club are now so lofty there is a danger that finishing runner-up again could unjustly be viewed as a failure.

"We’re talking if, if, if. The reality is that Arteta and Edu have brought the belief that Arsenal can win the Premier League. The belief that we can challenge against the best. The belief that we can compete in the Champions League every year.

"This is now the standard that we have to reach, the highest achievements, and everybody in the changing room should know that. They should know that Arsenal are now ready to win things and challenge against the best.

"We have to stick with the ambition of the manager and the ambition of Edu. This is now the reality."


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