Arsenal dare to dream

Posted by John Cross

Can they really do it? Can Arsenal mount a title challenge?

It was a question that didn't bother the Arsenal fans on Sunday as they chanted "we are top of the league" after a 3-1 victory over Stoke at the Emirates to secure their seventh straight win.

Arsene Wenger's men are riding the crest of a wave with four of those back-to-back wins coming in the Premier League, which took them to the top spot and has the fans dreaming again.

But is the title just a pipe dream? Do Arsenal have the quality to maintain a challenge until May? Of course Arsenal boss Wenger thinks so, even though he was measured in his comments after the victory.

That has to be the target, though. In Mesut Ozil they have a supplier of chances, assists and a player of genuine world-class quality. The former Real Madrid playmaker has given Arsenal the X factor they have missed since the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie.

- Delaney: Arsenal out-muscle Stoke

In fact, Ozil has the sort of quality that is needed to mount a title challenge of the like Arsenal have not had since going close in 2008 and then making another attempt a couple of seasons later.

Yet, the last time that Arsenal really believed was in 2008, when injuries and William Gallas' meltdown at Birmingham signalled the end of their push for the top spot.

Now Arsenal look like a stronger all-around package, as they have kept winning despite crippling injury problems this season.

That is the key question for Arsenal. Do they have the depth of squad to maintain the challenge? After all, things have become so desperate that they had to put Nicklas Bendtner, the forgotten man, on the bench against Stoke.

But in other areas, they look strong. In midfield, they have Ozil, who already tops the Premier League assist table with three and has provided 72 in the past five seasons in Spain and Germany. He looks like the real deal.

Mikel Arteta came on against Stoke and is back from injury. Aaron Ramsey scored his seventh goal of the season and is in the form of his life. Mathieu Flamini looks terrific. The player put in the shade is England's great hope, Jack Wilshere.

Then they still have Lukas Podolski to come back, plus England internationals Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, who was taken ill before kickoff.

Arsenal can create chances, and that is encouraging. But relying on Olivier Giroud, their only fit and in favour striker, may be too much of a gamble for a whole season.

That is the area of concern. Up front. Even at the back, Wojciech Szczesny is playing well in goal, and the defence looks solid with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in form. Bacary Sagna scored against Stoke and Kieran Gibbs looked a world-beater in Marseille.

So Arsenal are in good shape, in form and believing. The fans are behind them, too. Only time will tell whether it is enough. But if they can keep the key players fit, I think they are genuine contenders.

Maybe the title will eventually be too much for Arsenal. But they are surely due some silverware, and if Ozil can help them win a trophy, he will become even more of a hero than he is already.


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