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Arsenal: A cheerful challenger or the real deal?

From 2017 until 2021, Arsenal weren't Arsenal. The post-Wenger teams struggled to win games let alone trophies. But Mikel Arteta, after being given the backing of the Arsenal board over the last three years, has turned Arsenal into Premier League leaders.

The Gunners are enjoying their best-ever start to a top-flight season, Premier League or otherwise. Whether or not they're favourites for the title, no conversation can be had about it without involving Arsenal. So can they keep it up?

On the face of it, yes.

Traditionally, Arsenal fall apart around January. Since the Premier League resumed on Boxing Day, however, the league leaders have four wins and a draw from five games, beating three of the current top six.

This is the second of several big tests coming Arsenal's way this season. The first was done and dusted before the World Cup, balancing Thursday night Europa League games with Sunday afternoon Premier League matches.

Arsenal played six Europa League group matches this season, all on Thursday nights. They then took 16 points from the games directly after their European fixtures.

Even after a Carabao Cup defeat to Brighton, Arsenal won 0 - 2 at Molineux to go into the World Cup break five points clear, a lead they still hold, now with a game in hand.

The only issue Arsenal are likely to encounter is with their depth.

Whilst he did pass fit after a scan, the concern over Thomas Partey exposed Arsenal's lack of cover in central midfield. With Mohamed Elneny also out, the Gunners had to turn to Sambi Lokonga against Manchester City in the FA Cup.

The Belgian did put in a good shift in the second half but he was a shadow of Partey, who has been pivotal to Arsenal's style this season.

Picking up Jorginho from Chelsea may help the issue of depth, given his vast experience in domestic and European competitions. However, with the loss of Elneny, the Italian simply replaces the Egyptian, not improving the numbers.

That being said, questions over the depth of Arsenal's squad are perhaps being exaggerated.

Midfielders aside, there are two starting XIs in the Gunners squad. The signings of Jakub Kiwior and Leandro Trossard mean Arteta has two back fours and two front threes to call on.

The Carabao Cup and FA Cup were never priorities anyway for Arsenal, but the strength of the line-ups in the Europa League, especially against PSV, suggests that Arteta fancies his chances of going deep into the Europa League.

Of course, this will be a test for the Gunners, but they have arguably already overcome most of it.

Aside from International breaks and the unfortunate death of HM The Queen, Arsenal played at least once every four days from the middle of August until the World Cup break. They lost just a single Premier League game in that time.

Naturally, the resumption of the Europa League will pose another test for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal.

But so far the Spaniard has successfully guided the Gunners through every test they've faced, putting them in a commanding position entering the second half of the Premier League season.

There certainly aren't any signs of an Arsenal slump anytime soon.

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