Gary Neville believes we are witnessing the ‘Arsenal of 20 years ago’ – when Arsene Wenger’s indomitable side ruled English football – after yet another seismic outcome in a title run.
Mikel Arteta saw his Arsenal side re-establish a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a deserved 3-2 win over Manchester United – but he insisted a successful title tilt will “require almost perfection” for the rest of the season.
Arsenal are now unbeaten in their last 13 Premier League matches, their longest unbeaten streak since they lost 14 in December 2018.
“I really enjoyed it,” Neville said on his latest podcast. Sky Sports. “I just felt in the last half hour, Arsenal had more quality.
“It felt like Arsenal were like maybe 20 years ago. When I was a player against them I would have hoped they would shoot from long range or cross – but they would play that extra pass to get it into wide positions.
“They’ll keep driving you into your box. I find myself getting deeper, narrower and under pressure. I felt the goal was coming. It was just wave after wave of attack, and you felt that 20 years ago when you were playing against a good Arsenal team.”
Arsenal now have 50 points from their first 19 matches, and with five of the last six champions passing 90 points, Arteta knows they have to keep up their strong pace.
Now is the time for cool heads.
Earlier in January, Arteta had not yet been signed for a full-time clash against Tottenham when an altercation between Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and Tottenham striker Richarlison ended with a fan kicking Ramsdale before he lunged back into the crowd.
He then instead stressed the importance of his players keeping their heads during a fiery rivalry, having had defender Rob Holding sent off less than half an hour into their defeat by Tottenham in May.
Arsenal’s mood will be tested during the second half of the season, but Neville believes the additions of Gabriel Jesus and Alexander Zinchenko – ironically from Man City – will give Arteta’s side the experience needed to handle the scrutiny.
“I don’t think the coaches 20 years ago were as prominent as those we see today, like Conte, Klopp, Pep and Arteta,” said Neville, when asked about the plays of the Arsenal coach that made him warn Anthony Taylor.
“These Arsenal players will be under a lot of pressure for the next 19 games which will take composure – especially in the last 10 games.
“When you go into winning the league title, it will be really stressful for these guys. Not only will they need that passion but they will also require composure and some quiet authority at times.
“They’ll need stability. They’ve got players like Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus who know what it’s like, they’ve been there before. It’s really exciting to think of what an Arsenal side can achieve.
“Now they need to move on and prove they can win the title, which is going to be really tough. They still have to play Manchester City twice and they’ve put it on their shoulders.
“They are a massive force, Manchester City and Pep Guardiola. You can imagine them sitting there tonight unfazed by it.”
Heading into the weekend, Pep Guardiola questioned the will of his players after the 4-2 win over Tottenham and said Arsenal would “destroy” them in the Premier League title race if they continued playing as they are.
City responded with a 3-0 win at Wolves thanks to a hat-trick in the Premier League this season by Erling Haaland – and Neville says he feels Arsenal will eventually come out despite their current five-point lead.
“I don’t see them going on to win the league, I still think Man City will. I feel City have their own run in them and a point in the season will come when they lose a game or two. They will be on their shoulders and it will be very difficult for them but they can win the league.
“I thought they wouldn’t be close to winning the league and I can’t believe they’re even in the chat. The fact that they’re in the conversation of winning the league is unbelievable, so it’s not a negative thing for me to say I think City will win the league because that’s what I thought at the start of the season.
“I feel like City are going to go after them but they are really unbelievable whoops for Mikel Arteta because I was really worried about him at the end of last season.”
Neville: Nketiah deserves an England call-up
Eddie Nketiah has scored 19 goals in his last 26 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions, including 13 in his last 13 appearances at the Emirates Stadium.
“Eddie Nketiah is due to be called up in England,” Neville added. “Gareth Southgate is very good at letting players watch their Under-21 career and not bringing them into the first team too early.
“But the level of Dominic Calvert-Lewin isn’t there at the moment, Callum Wilson is good but is he going to be there for the next four or five years? The Harry Kane we know is great but there is a dearth of strikers. Marcus Rashford plays wide and I think that’s where he’ll stay.” in it.
“Erik ten Hag wants him to stay there so he has a real chance, but for now the best thing Nketiah can do is contribute to the Arsenal team and this very special race they’re in and the special season they’re in.”
Arteta praises Arsenal’s first half of the season
The win took Arsenal to 50 points from their first 19 games of the season – a club record at this point in the season – surpassing even the indomitable Arsene Wenger by five.
“Extraordinary,” Arteta replied when asked about his thoughts on the first half of the campaign.
“It wasn’t much better than that. We deserved the points we got. I think we played well enough to win most of the matches.
“But the truth is we have things we can improve on. Attack and defense are in transitional stages. That’s the point.”
Arteta, who worked as an assistant to Pep Guardiola before taking over at the Emirates Stadium, will now move into his squad to face City in the FA Cup fourth round on Friday night.
They still have two league meetings to go, and Arteta believes everyone in the division is still playing for City.
“I know my team very well,” he added. “They’re good enough to play against these teams and they’ve done it. We’ve been talking about it for the last two or three days.
“We know our reality, we still know how much we have to improve, we know what got us to where we are today and we have to reinforce that every day.
“I know where we are, I know why we’re here and I know where we want to be while we’re away from it.
“I know the levels of other teams, especially those that have won in the past five or six years, and we are not there yet.”