“Extraordinary” is how manager Mikel Arteta summed up Arsenal’s season so far – and few would disagree.
Arteta’s team is now five points clear at the top of the league with a game in hand over second-placed Manchester City. The Premier League’s top two teams have yet to play each other this season.
“It doesn’t get much better than that, that’s the reality,” the Spaniard said after the win against United.
“I think we deserve the points that we have, I think we have played well enough to win most of the matches, but the reality as well is that we still have a lot of things that we can get much better at.”
The game against United offered a stern test of Arsenal’s title credentials.
Marcus Rashford’s superb strike gave the visiting side the lead, only for the Gunners to respond seven minutes later when Eddie Nketiah headed in at the back post from Granit Xhaka’s excellent cross.
With the match level at halftime, Bukayo Saka seized the advantage for Arsenal and answered Rashford’s goal with a long-range effort of his own.
The England international fired a left-footed shot beyond the reach of David de Gea’s outstretched arm – his seventh league goal of the season and one he later described as his best ever.
He celebrated by putting his finger to his temple, just as Rashford had done in the first half.
Now, however, it was United’s turn to come from behind as a diving Lisandro Martinez headed Aaron Ramsdale’s save into the Arsenal net.
That leveled the match at 2-2 and United seemed content to settle for the draw. Not so Arsenal, which continued to press for the winning goal.
Saka hit the post and Nketiah had a shot saved by de Gea before eventually getting the all-important goal with a flick of his foot in the 90th minute.
With that, the Emirates Stadium erupted and Arsenal’s Premier League title charge gathered further pace.
It’s been nearly two decades since Arsenal last lifted the league trophy, a period dating back to the 2003/04 season when Arsène Wenger’s “Invincibles” went unbeaten with 26 wins and 12 draws.
But even that team was short of the 50 points the current crop of players have amassed at the halfway stage of the season, a milestone only recorded on four previous occasions – Manchester City in 2017/18, Liverpool in 2018/19 and 2019/20, and Chelsea in 2005/06.
For Arsenal fans, this season has been the stuff of dreams. Aside from winning the FA Cup four times between 2014 and 2020, the club’s recent history has largely been characterized by inconsistency and underachievement.
And when Arteta led Arsenal to successive eighth-placed finishes in the Premier League during his first two seasons in charge, many thought the club’s struggles would continue indefinitely.
But the youngest squad in the league – with an average age of just over 24 years old – has surpassed all expectations, its only loss coming against United back in September.
Concerns about Arsenal’s lack of squad depth or star power compared to rivals have never materialized.
Ukrainian international Oleksandr Zinchenko has been a revelation since arriving from Manchester City last year, former loanee Martin Ødegaard has provided eight goals and five assists in the league, and Xhaka, a player sometimes seen as wayward and ill-disciplined, has been superb this season.
Gabriel Jesus, another summer signing from Man City, made an excellent start before an injury interrupted his season, while the recent arrival of Leandro Trossard from Brighton further strengthens Arsenal’s attacking options.
“I think today [against United] we showed we can play at another level,” Saka told Arsenal Media. “We can play when there’s pressure on us.
“I think it’s the earliest time this season we’ve gone behind and we fought back, and even until the end, we kept going until the last minute and got the breakthrough.”
Before Arsenal and Manchester City play in the league, the two teams meet in the FA Cup fourth round on Friday.
Win that and the possibility of claiming silverware in multiple competitions – a remote thought at the start of the season – will suddenly feel very real.