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International Soccer
By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
Is it time to start taking Arsenal seriously?
Mesut Ozil Arsenal's last real title challenge came during the 2007-08 season.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Prior to the start of the current Premiership season, much of the talk centered on the three-team title race that most observers were anticipating.

Manchester United won the league by 11 points last season but was beginning life without legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, while Manchester City was breaking in a new boss as well with Manuel Pellegrini taking over for the fired Roberto Mancini.

And then there was Chelsea, which was anticipating a return to its glory days under Jose Mourinho after the Special One returned to Stamford Bridge over the summer.

Arsenal figured to be, well, Arsenal.

The Gunners would fail to win a trophy yet again, find a way to sneak into the top four in the league, and manager Arsene Wenger would complain about the spending of his rivals and the need for financial fair play.

It is a pattern that has been established over the past few years, and prior to the start of the season, it was one that figured to continue.

A 3-1 defeat at home against Aston Villa on the opening day of the campaign did little to inspire confidence in the Gunners. But since that time, the team has claimed 19 of a possible 21 points, and Wenger's side finds itself perched atop the league.

Wenger stepped out of his comfort zone by shelling out $68 million for midfield playmaker Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid in August, which gives the boss an embarrassment of riches in midfield.

The club's 4-1 win over Norwich City over the weekend saw the team put on the kind of offensive display that Arsenal had become known for 10 years ago, and it also served notice to the rest of the Premier League that this season Arsenal could be for real.

Of course, we are just eight games into a 38-game season, so slapping a title contender tag on Arsenal is about as premature as picking a marathon winner at the five-mile mark.

That being said, there are reasons to believe this season could be different, and it starts with the abundance of talent in midfield that Wenger has amassed.

Ozil has gotten off to a flying start with two goals and three assists in his first five games, while Aaron Ramsey has emerged as a genuine goal threat with five to go along with three assists in eight league games.

Two of the most important players for Arsenal last season, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott, have missed time with injuries, while speedy youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been limited to one game because of his own injury problems.

Add to that mix Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere, and it is clear that Wenger deploys easily one of the best midfields in the league.

Forward Olivier Giroud has settled in nicely in his second season in London by scoring four goals and assisting on four more as he has benefited from some improved service by the wealth of creativity in the Arsenal midfield.

Defensively, Arsenal has held up well with Laurent Koscielny holding things together at the back, but the next few months figure to reveal a lot about this team.

The fixture list has been kind to Arsenal with the team playing just one side currently in the top eight in the league table.

Arsenal's last real title challenge came during the 2007-08 season when the team finished four points back of Manchester United.

The next two months will see the club face Liverpool, United, Manchester City and Chelsea, which should provide a good litmus test.

We will be able see how well the back line holds up, if a lack of steel in the midfield costs them against another top-notch side and whether the absence of depth at forward will prove problematic.

Two months from now, the title picture will be a bit clearer, but there is no reason at this point to think that Arsenal won't be a part of it.

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