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right direction Arsenal might finally look like a team on rise but Saturday’s trip to Liverpool will be a real acid test

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta

The sight of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe scoring at one end for England this week, and Aaron Ramsdale keeping a clean sheet at the other, will be regarded by Arsenal as further evidence that their new path is the right path. This is a club who have invested heavily in youth, both financially and strategically, and they are starting to see a promising return.

It is an indication of the drastic turnaround in fortunes that they are the Premier League’s in-form side. If the league table started in September, after three games and following the closure of the transfer window, Mikel Arteta’s team would be top of the pile.

On that measure alone, it is surely fair to say that the division’s youngest side, led by the youngest manager, are ahead of the expected curve. When they recalibrated the club strategy this summer, signing six players aged 23 or under, they accepted that it would not be a quick fix. This was a long-term rebuild, and many fans braced themselves for more short-term pain.

After 11 matches, though, Arsenal find themselves in the conversation, at the very least, when it comes to the top four. If they can win at Anfield tomorrow, they will overtake Liverpool and move into fourth place. Such a position used to be derided by the club’s supporters, during the Arsene Wenger days, but now it would be celebrated with genuine glee.

Mid-November is far too early to be drawing conclusions on a team as notoriously unreliable as Arsenal, but this progress under Arteta actually stretches back to December last year. Since St Stephen’s Day, Arsenal have been the fourth-best team in the Premier League, winning 67 points from 35 games. Chelsea, regarded by many as title contenders, have won 68 points.

Arsenal’s progress has not necessarily been noticed by the outside world, largely because the external view of the club has generally been defined by the eye-catching collapses rather than the quiet steps forward. The three consecutive defeats to start this campaign garnered far more attention, for example, than the victories over Aston Villa, Leicester City and Watford in their past three games.

Arsenal, and Arteta especially, will not mind flying under the radar. The underlying trajectory is promising, despite those high-profile defeats, and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic as they seek victory against Liverpool.

The team are settled, the defence are solid and the youngsters are thriving in attack for club and country.

Now for the caveat: Arsenal and Anfield do not mix. The north Londoners have not won there since 2012, and have conceded a total of 65 goals at the venue in the Premier League. Their past five trips to Anfield have brought five defeats, with Arsenal losing those games by a combined score of 18-4.

There must also be an acceptance that such a young team (the average age of their starting line-up this season is just 24 years and 242 days) will have dips. The back four of Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhaes and Kieran Tierney are all 24 or under, while Ramsdale is 23. There will be mistakes, and there are few teams as adept as Liverpool at punishing those errors.

A lack of squad depth, combined with the inexperience of the team, could prove to be Arsenal’s primary obstacles. But that should not detract from the underlying truth that they are, at last, a team on the rise.

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]


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