News Kane’s last chance of a trophy this season is in the Champions League

LONDON: Mikel Arteta had just seen his Arsenal team come up painfully short in their Premier League title race with Manchester City and he couldn’t hide his anguish.

“I know we’re not at that level,” a crestfallen Arteta said last May, “but we have to find a way.”

Well, Arsenal’s upgraded class of 2024 are finding a way.

They are there again, leading the Premier League with seven games left — just like last season. And once again, City are on Arsenal’s shoulder, waiting to pounce.

Will this year be different?

The math is simple: Save for an unlikely huge swing in goal difference, Arsenal can capture the league for the first time since 2004 by winning their last seven games.

In a remarkably tight title race, Arsenal are tied for points with Liverpool but have a superior goal difference of 9 over Jurgen Klopp’s team. City are a point back in third.

All three clubs have seven matches remaining, with each of their run-ins sprinkled with what appears to be home bankers and tough road trips.

Arsenal are in the driving seat, though, and are mounting an increasingly convincing case.

Unlike last season, when Arteta’s players stumbled — some say froze — late in the campaign with just two wins in its last nine games as injuries took their toll, they look to be growing in strength this time.

Here’s a deeper look at the facts and figures around Arsenal’s latest title challenge and what might be the defining features of the next six weeks.

Statistics

The numbers suggest Arsenal are ready to take this final step. Unbeaten in the league in 11 matches in 2024, the team have scored 38 goals and conceded just four goals in that spell — better than anyone else in both aspects. In the season as a whole, Arsenal have scored a league-high 75 goals and let in a league-low 24 goals. Arsenal have the most reliable defense in the league, as shown by shutting out City home and away this season.

Squad strength

Declan Rice is the obvious upgrade in Arsenal’s squad, with the England midfielder’s $138 million fee proving to be value for money. Much of Arsenal’s defensive strength is down to the protection the back line gets from Rice in front of it and also from Jorginho, who has established himself as a regular in the second half of the season. Kai Havertz was a more contentious offseason signing but is confounding his critics, having scored in five in Arsenal’s last seven league games. Most notable were the late winners home and away against Brentford. Arsenal have also coped fine without its other big summer signing, Jurrien Tumber, who has missed pretty much the whole season because of injury. Jakob Kiwior, an unheralded January 2023 recruit, has filled in well at left back in recent months.

Lessons learned

Arteta was accused by many pundits of being too emotional on the sidelines last season and letting that seep into his team in those pressure-filled last few months. He’s still active on the touchline, for sure, but he is proving to be a calmer figure as the intensity builds. The same can be said of
his team. 

Arteta appears to have followed the playbook of City manager Pep Guardiola in pacing the campaign much more effectively. Arsenal controls games better, making them less frenetic. Arteta has not been afraid to rest players, when last season he might have overplayed the likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli and saw their late-season displays tail off. By playing Kiwior, Arteta has also started to deploy a back four entirely composed of center backs — like Guardiola did at times last season to great effect.

EUROPE

The biggest concern for Arsenal might be its continued involvement in the Champions League, with a two-legged quarterfinal meeting with Bayern Munich coming up over the next two weeks. If Arsenal advances, it would play either City or Real Madrid in the semifinals. In that case, the Gunners would not have a free midweek until the last week of the season — and they aren’t used to such a fixture pileup. That would be the ultimate test of Arteta’s credentials and his squad depth.

SAKA’S FITNESS

The fitness of Bukayo Saka, Arsenal’s key attacker, is a concern. The right winger pulled out of the recent England squad because of a muscle injury, didn’t play at all against Luton last midweek and didn’t last the full game against either City (78 minutes) or Brighton (64 minutes). Arteta has said Saka is suffering from “niggles” and “kicks” and is clearly treating his prized asset with caution. He’ll need him over the next few weeks, though.

FIXTURES

Away from its extremely difficult Champions League schedule, Arsenal might also have the toughest run-in of the three Premier League title challengers. Away games against Manchester United — away to whom Liverpool has just stumbled twice — and north London rival Tottenham stand out, as does next weekend’s match against fifth-place Aston Villa, which comes between the double-header against Bayern. Negotiating a trip to Wolverhampton, which beat City at home this season, and then a home match against a mercurial Chelsea team in the space of four days after the second leg against Bayern could also be a test for Arteta.

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