Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Keep This Up and Arsenal Will Be Champions; with Their Title Rivals Floundering, the Gunners Have Their Best Chance since 2004 to Finish Top

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Keep This Up and Arsenal Will Be Champions; with Their Title Rivals Floundering, the Gunners Have Their Best Chance since 2004 to Finish Top

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley Chief Football Correspondent

ARSENAL 2 MANCHESTER CITY 1

WHAT a chance Arsenal have now. Leicester City deserve their Christmas celebrations for entering the festive period at the top of the table but it is the Gunners who should ring in the New Year with the most optimism.

They have been the form team in 2015, taking 78 points from 36 matches since January 1 -- 10 more than Manchester City and 12 more than Leicester. If they continue this consistency in the second half of the season, Arsenal will be champions.

Both the result and performance against Manchester City establishes Arsene Wenger's side as the principal challengers to Leicester. Nothing appears stable for long enough in this absurd season to draw any firm conclusions but it is safe to say that Arsenal have the best opportunity to win the title now since their last in 2004.

City will point to captain Vincent Kompany's absence and Sergio Aguero's lack of match fitness on the night, in addition to an expensively assembled squad brimming with individuals capable of igniting a title charge at any time.

But they looked a rabble here. Manuel Pellegrini's insistence they were the better team was seemingly based on a sterile domination Wenger allowed City to have, just as when beating the same opposition at the Etihad Stadium back in January.

That win has proved to be both a catalyst and a template for this team to propel them forward in big matches. Their rivals continue to flounder. With every defeat, Pep Guardiola casts an even greater shadow over Pellegrini while Jose Mourinho's availability will only sharpen the knives for Louis van Gaal at Manchester United.

Chelsea are surely too far back to challenge despite appointing an appeaser in Guus Hiddink while Tottenham look fractionally short on numbers and quality to sustain a genuine, lasting push for the top.

Though not at the top of the table, Arsenal are in pole position. One or two acquisitions next month would strengthen that conviction no end but here was a performance of maturity, industry and class achieved without their leading figure in all three areas: Alexis Sanchez.

The news that Sanchez suffered a "very slight" setback in training on Saturday, ruling him out until January 10, would have been a body blow had the remaining players not just demonstrated they have learned from the Chilean's tireless performances.

Arsenal's work without the ball was excellent and Sanchez is so often the talisman for that trait: last night they did it without him. And, importantly, big players with longstanding question marks over their ability at the highest level are finally beginning to silence their critics.

Mesut Ozil took his tally to 15 assists for the season, firstly for Theo Walcott's opener and then with a more telling pass for Olivier Giroud to score his 12th goal in 14 games on the stroke of half-time. …

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