Gary Neville believes we are seeing “the Arsenal of 20 years ago” – when Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles ruled English football – after another seismic result in the title race.
Mikel Arteta saw his Arsenal side restore their five-point cushion at the Premier League summit after a deserved 3-2 win over Manchester United – but insists a successful title bow will “require almost perfection” for the rest of the campaign.
The Gunners are now unbeaten in their last 13 Premier League games, their longest unbeaten run in the competition since 14 in December 2018.
“I really enjoyed it,” Neville said on his latest podcast Sky Sports. “In the last half hour, I felt that Arsenal had a lot of quality.
“Arsenal felt like 20 years ago. When I was a player against them, I wanted them to shoot from distance or cross it, but they would play the extra pass to get it into wide positions.
“They would drive you into your box. I would go deep and press and press. It just felt like the goal was coming. It was just wave after wave of attack and it felt like 20 years ago. You played against such a good Arsenal team.”
Arsenal now have 50 points from their opening 19 games and with five of their last six champions over 90 points, Arteta knows they must continue their electric run of form.
Now is the time for cool heads.
Arteta would have ignored an ugly incident at full-time against Tottenham in early January, in which an altercation between Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and Spurs striker Richarlison ended with a fan kicking Ramsdale.
Then, in May, he underlined the importance of his players keeping their heads up during a fiery contest, having seen defender Rob Holding sent off less than half an hour into the defeat by Spurs.
Arsenal’s temperament will be tested in the second half of the campaign, but Neville believes the additions of Gabriel Jesus and Aleksandar Zinchenko from Man City will give Arteta’s side the experience they need to conduct a check.
“I don’t think the managers of 20 years ago were as demonstrative as the ones we see like Conte, Klopp, Pep and Arteta,” Neville said when asked about the Arsenal manager’s title theatrics, which earned him a warning from referee Anthony Taylor.
“Arsenal’s players will be under considerable pressure in the next 19 games, which will require patience, especially in the last 10 matches.
“When you’re going for a league title, it’s a real pressure on the players. They need not only that passion, but also composure and sometimes a quiet authority.
“They will have to settle down. They have players like Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus, they know what it’s like, they’ve been there before. It’s exciting to think what this Arsenal team can achieve.
“They have to prove to us now that they can win the title and that will be really tough. They still have to play Manchester City twice and they’ve got them on their shoulders.
“They are a big powerhouse, Manchester City and Pep Guardiola. You can imagine them sitting tonight.”
Pep Guardiola questioned the will of his players after their 4-2 win over Tottenham at the weekend, saying Arsenal will “destroy” them in the Premier League title race if they keep playing like they have been.
City responded with a 3-0 win over Wolves thanks to Erling Holland’s fourth Premier League hat-trick of the season – and Neville believes Arsenal will eventually fall short despite their current five-point advantage.
“I don’t see them winning the league, I still think Man City will win. I think City have had a special run and when they lose one or two matches in the season, a point will come. City will be on their shoulders and it will be very difficult for them. but they might win the league.
“I thought they weren’t going to win the league and I can’t believe they’re talking about it. It’s amazing that they’re talking about winning the league, so that’s not a negative thing for me. I think City will win the league because that’s what I thought at the start of the season.
“I think City will chase them, but they’re crying out fantastically 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 games for Arsenal in all competitions, including 13 in his last 13 games at the Emirates Stadium.
“Eddie Nketiah needs an England call-up,” added Neville. “Gareth Southgate is very good at letting players see out their Under-21 careers and bringing them into the first team very early.
“But Dominic Calvert-Lewin is out of form at the moment, Callum Wilson is good, but will he be there for the next four or five years? Harry Kane, we know, is fantastic, but there are not enough centre-forwards. Marcus Rashford is playing wide and I think he will stay there.
“Eric ten Hag wants him to stay there, so he has a real chance, but the best thing Nketiah can do at the moment is contribute to the Arsenal team and the special run and special season they are having.”
Arteta praises Arsenal’s first half of the season
The win lifted Arsenal to 50 points from their opening 19 games of the campaign – a record for the club at this stage of the season – and also left Arsene Wenger’s unbeaten men five points behind.
“Special,” Arteta replied when asked about his thoughts on the first half of the campaign.
“It doesn’t get any better than this. We deserved the points we got. I think we played well enough to win most of the matches.
“But the truth is there are things we can get better at. Offense and defense in transition. That’s the goal.”
Arteta, who was Pep Guardiola’s assistant before taking the reins at the Emirates Stadium, will now face City in the FA Cup fourth round on Friday night.
They have two more league meetings and Arteta believes the whole division is still up for grabs with City.
“I know my team very well,” he added. “They are good enough to play against these teams and they did it. We talked about it in the last two or three days.
“We know our reality, we know how much we still have to improve, we know what brought us to where we are today and we have to strengthen it every day.
“I know where we are, I know why we’re here and where we want to be, and we’re far from it.
“I know the level of other teams, especially the teams that have won in the last five or six years, and we’re not there yet.”