As Mikel Arteta passionately celebrated Arsenal’s victory at Leeds United on Sunday, supporters lauded his side with the chant “1-0 to the Arsenal.”
It paid homage to the teams of yesteryear who often showed defensive resilience and tactical acumen to achieve such a result.
It is something not associated with the Gunners in recent seasons as inconsistent performances have seen them fall out of the Premier League’s top-four picture and a place in the coveted Champions League.
Fabulous one game, feeble the next, and subsequent questions about their mentality and quality.
Now Arsenal stand four points clear at the top, having impressively won nine of their opening 10 league games in a season for the first time since 1903-04.
As Arteta said afterward: “This is not a coincidence, it shows the willingness that I see in the eyes of the players to win, to compete. This is something special.”
The 40-year-old Spanish manager, who took over in 2019 after three years as assistant to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, is creating something special at the Emirates Stadium as his young side passed another big test of their credentials to challenge the title favorites.
Mohamed Salah’s fourth goal this week, accounting for City’s first league defeat of the campaign at Liverpool, has added fresh intrigue to a race that did not feature Arsenal as contenders at the start of the season.
After all, they have not been champions since Arsene Wenger’s “Invincibles” went unbeaten in the 2003-04 season, and last finished in the top four in 2016 when they were runners-up to Leicester.
Yet Arteta’s men deserve to be in the frame again as their displays have combined stubborn resolve with a slick and quick attack, producing performances that bear the hallmarks of past title-winning sides.
They followed a thrilling 3-2 win over Liverpool last weekend with a defiant one at a hostile Elland Road against a Leeds outfit that allowed Bukayo Saka to smash in the stunning winner, via a Rodrigo mistake, and then pummeled the Arsenal backline with aggressive intent.
The outcome could have been different had Patrick Bamford not sent a penalty wide, nor VAR overturn another spot kick and red card for the otherwise impressive Gabriel — both injury time decisions changed after Bamford was adjudged to have initially barged the Brazilian center-back who lashed out with a high kick.
Arteta said Arsenal were made to “suffer” but crucially did not succumb as before.
Keeper Aaron Ramsdale, another to stand firm with a string of fine saves, reveled in his side’s ability to “win ugly” — where top teams sacrifice attractive football for a pragmatic approach to secure victories.
The visitors had opened Leeds up in a first half delayed by a power cut, with brisk counterattacks soaked in class.
In Martin Odegaard, they have a player capable of orchestrating attacks with intelligence and industry.
There are glimpses of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Luka Modric — footballing artists who are just a joy to watch — in Odegaard’s passing and knack of finding space. With such creativity and the captaincy at just 23, the Norwegian could lead Arsenal by example in the way Cesc Fabregas once did.
Having engineered an opening for Gabriel Jesus, which the Brazil forward chipped over with a neat backheel flick, a sublime pass between two defenders then released Saka to blast in from an acute angle.
With four goals in his last three games, England winger Saka is thriving like the rest of his team.
Yet Arsenal did not play to these strengths in the second half as Leeds pressed more vigorously, dropping deeper, not controlling possession and inviting pressure that they eventually managed to defy through determination and good fortune.
Having set higher standards, Ramsdale said: “It’s the worst we have played. Another day they probably beat us 2-1, 3-1.
“We want to play our way, we want to control games, but sometimes you just can’t.
“For us, to get through this game, get three points and a clean sheet away from home, is massive.
“Sometimes you have to win ugly, smash and grab with not many chances on goal. We don’t want to do this every week, we want to be winning with nice football.
“But it’s now in the back of our minds to know we can do it and, at a place like Leeds, gives us confidence. It’s important to do that.
“It’s polar opposites in terms of performances (to the one against Liverpool), but in the end it’s the same result. It’s all about that balance, you have to be able to do this.”
The Gunners will still have to show their rise is not followed by an expected fall, and they are not primed to fold under the pressure of being leaders.
But spirited wins over Tottenham, Liverpool and now Leeds should dispel some doubts and give them belief they should be feared rather than be fearful.
“We are still developing and learning,” added Ramsdale. “We are in a great position at the minute, but we aren’t the finished article.
“We are not going to (go) everywhere and out-pass every team and win every second ball. Sometimes you have got to grit your teeth and that’s what we did against Leeds. We had to grind it out.
“We don’t feel added pressure being top. We go into every game with a big smile on our face, trying to win a game of football.
“We are just loving going into games because we know at our best, and at our worst, we can still win.”
Arsenal’s fine start has poured scorn on those who feel City are unstoppable in achieving a hat trick of titles.
Guardiola’s men remain favorites, but Liverpool have revived their hopes, Tottenham’s start to a season is their best since 1963, and Chelsea should not be discounted either following Graham Potter’s arrival and five straight wins.