1-0 To The Arsenal: Gunners Find The Grit They Need For Title Challenge

Mikel Arteta's men have finally got the mentality to match their ability
13:00, 22 Aug 2023

Arsenal were pegged by many, including us to be legitimate title contenders again this term. Declan Rice, Kai Havertz, Jurrien Timber and David Raya have been added to a squad that ran treble-winners Manchester City close last term.

Most expected the Gunners to emerge in dominant fashion as the new season dawned. Their opening two games came against last season’s 16th and 11th-place clubs respectively. Surely, months removed from their title near-miss and with expensive, impressive new men in tow they would crush all and sundry?


Not quite, but that’s sort of the point. Nottingham Forest, last season’s great survivors, went all-out counter-attack. Ceding possession, with the Gunners enjoying 79% of the ball, Forest kept it competitive enough that Arsenal could only win 2-1. On what was supposed to be an opening day coronation of their credentials, last season’s runners-up had done just about enough.

Monday night was an even tougher proposition. Crystal Palace have looked galvanised since Roy Hodgson returned to the club and guided them to mid-table last season. An opening day 1-0 away win at Sheffield United, in which they had 24 shots, epitomised the good feeling around the club.

They gave Mikel Arteta’s side all they could handle last night. In a tightly-contested night game, both teams had 14 shots on goal and almost evenly split possession. It was a true contest between the two London sides. Again, not what people were expecting when Arteta’s side spent over £200 million this summer.


Yet, the fact Arsenal pulled out a 1-0 win, by virtue of a Martin Odegaard penalty, demonstrates a different set of credentials. The fact they did so with ten men from the 67th minute, when Takehiro Tomiyasu was given a second yellow card, shows their steel.

Titles aren’t won and lost by battering every team 6-0. City may have shifted the paradigm in that regard. But grinding out three points in tricky circumstances is as much a part of winning the Premier League as the one-sided batterings. Arsenal are beginning to master situations which would have previously broken them mentally.

Mentality is arguably what last season’s title capitulation came down to. They won four, drew three and lost three of their last ten games of the 2022/23 campaign. When grit was needed they offered none. City and Pep Guardiola won the mind games, drubbing the Gunners 4-1 on the way to lifting yet another title. Normal service had resumed.

Arsenal could have come into this season carrying a particularly gruesome hangover from that experience. Instead, they have learned their lessons. These opening two games haven’t gone all their own way. But they overcame the stubborn resistance of a Forest side who beat them 1-0 during that run-in last term. Even with ten men, they nipped the Palace resurgence in the bud. Arteta’s side is capable of beautiful football. But now he’s got them winning ugly, too.

If Arsenal are to return to the podium for the first time in 20 years, they will need these new facets. Every match shouldn’t be as grinding as these two, but some will be. It is those games which are often the difference between a creditable runner-up and a league champion. Arsenal went close last year on verve and spirit. Now they have added determination and resilience, they may go one better.

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