Gary Neville believes we saw “Arsenal 20 years ago” – when Arsene Wenger ruled English football invincible – following another seismic event in the title race.
Mikel Arteta saw his Arsenal side restore their five-point cushion at the top of the Premier League following a deserved 3-2 win over Manchester United – but insists a successful title tilt “may be the finishing touch” for the rest of the campaign.
The Gunners are now unbeaten in their last 13 Premier League games, the longest unbeaten streak in the competition, going unbeaten on December 14, 2018.
“I’m really enjoying it,” Neville said on his latest podcast You are playing heaven. “I just felt in the last half hour, Arsenal had more quality.
“It felt like Arsenal were maybe 20 years ago. When I was a player against them, I wanted them to shoot from a distance or pass it – but they played outside the pass to get it into wide areas.
“They would drive you into your box. I found myself deeper, narrower and under pressure. The goal felt like it was coming. It was just a flurry of attack after attack, and it felt like twenty years ago when you fought against such a good Arsenal team.
Arsenal now have 50 points from their opening 19 games and, with five of the last six champions surpassing 90 points, Arteta knows he can keep up the electric pace.
It’s time for cool heads.
Earlier in January, Arteta was not involved in a foul play against Tottenham when he ended a gap between Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and Spurs before Richarlison slammed Ramsdale back into the crowd.
Then, instead, he highlighted the importance of his players having their heads in the fiery match, seeing defender Rob Holding sent off less than half an hour into their defeat to Spurs in May.
Arsenal’s temperament will be tested in the second half of the campaign, but Neville’s additions of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko – ironically from Man City – will give Arteta’s side the necessary experience to handle the scrutiny.
“I don’t think managers 20 years ago were as demonstrative as we see today, like Conte, Klopp, Pep and Arteta,” Neville said when asked about the Arsenal manager’s theatrics which earned him a warning from referee Antonio Taylor.
“These Arsenal players are going to come under significant pressure in the next 19 games which will require composure – especially in the last 10 matches.
“When you’re going for a friendly title, there will be real pressure on the players. Not only will they require passion, but they will also require composure and sometimes some calm authority.
“We will have to sit down. They have players like Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus who know what it’s like, they’ve been there before. It’s really exciting to think what this Arsenal team can achieve.
“Now they need to go on and prove to us that they can win the title, which is going to be really tough. They still have to play Manchester City twice and they’ve got it on their shoulders.
“They are a great powerhouse, Manchester City, and Pep Guardiola. Sitting tonight you can imagine not to be too disappointed.”
At the weekend, Pep Guardiola questioned his players’ desire after a 4-2 win over Tottenham and said Arsenal will “lose” them in the Premier League title race if they continue to play as they are.
City responded with a 3-0 victory over Wolves courtesy of a fourth Premier League hat-trick of the season for Erling Haaland – and Neville insists he feels Arsenal will ultimately come up short despite their current five-point advantage.
“I don’t see them winning the league, I still think City is a man. I feel that City have a special run in them and there will come a point in time when they lose one or two matches. City will be right on their shoulders, but it will be very difficult for them to be able to win the league.
“I never thought it would be close to winning the league and I don’t believe it’s even in the chat. That’s incredible in the conference of winning the friendship, it’s not negative to say to me. I think the city will bring the league what I thought at the beginning of the season.
“I feel that City will chase them, but they stick with the noise, which is really incredible for Mikel Arteta as I was really worried for him at the end of last season.”
Neville: Nketiah deserves an England call-up
Eddie Nketiah has scored 19 goals in his last 26 starts for Arsenal in all competitions, 13 in his last 13 starts at the Emirates Stadium.
“The Englishman is up to Eddie Nketiah,” added Neville. “Gareth Southgate is very good at allowing players to progress through their U21 careers and not bringing them into the first team prematurely.
“But Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s form isn’t there at the moment, Callum Wilson is good but is he going to be there for the next four or five years? Harry Kane, we know he’s fantastic but the dearth of midfielders is brought up in the middle. Marcus Rashford is playing out wide and he thinks he’s going to stay there.
“Erik ten Hag wants him to stay there so he’s got a real chance, but at the moment Nketiah can do the best he can to contribute to this Arsenal team and this very special run that they’re sticking to in a special season.”
Arteta praises Arsenal for the first half of the season
The win moved Arsenal on to 50 points from the opening 19 games of the campaign – a club record for this season – even eclipsing Arsene Wenger’s unbeaten run by five points.
“Extraordinary,” Arteta replied when asked about the first part of the campaign.
“It doesn’t get much better than that. We deserved the points we got. I think we played well enough to win the biggest battles.”
“But the fact is we can have better things. Attack and defend in transitions. This is the goal.”
Arteta, who worked as an assistant to Pep Guardiola before taking the reins at the Emirates Stadium, will now take his side to face City in the FA Cup fourth round on Friday night.
They also still have two league meetings to come and Arteta believes they can catch everyone in the division still playing with City.
“I know mine well now,” he added. “They are good enough to play against these teams and they did this. We will talk about this in the next two or three days.
“We know our situation, we still know how much we have to improve, we know what took us to the current state and we have to strengthen every day.
“I know where we are, I know why we are here and I know where we want to be and we are a long way from that.
“I know the level of other teams and especially one that has won in the last five or six years and we are still not there.”