It's Too Early to Tell If Arsenal Are Title Contenders

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15:  Arsenal players celebrate after Nathaniel Clyne of Southhampton scores an own goal to make it 4-0 in the first half during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at Emirates Stadium on September 15, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

There is a sense of optimism starting to build in North London as Arsenal put together an impressive start to the season that has been in stark contrast to last season's calamity.

After losing star striker Robin van Persie to Manchester United, as well as midfielder Alex Song to Barcelona, many expected Arsenal to genuinely struggle in 2012-13. But some smart summer moves and the return of key players has seen Arsene Wenger's side jump out to an undefeated start that has them sitting third on the Premier League table.

Consecutive scoreless stalemates against Sunderland and Stoke have been followed by a dismantling of Liverpool at Anfield and a flattening of Southampton at the Emirates. New faces Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski have slotted in seamlessly, providing the Gunners with an attacking variety not seen last season, while the return of Abou Diaby has given Arsenal a powerhouse in midfield.

All of this has seen the once pessimistic fans starting to talk up Arsenal's title credentials. It's understandable given that the North Londoners haven't lifted a single piece of silverware since the FA Cup in 2005, continuously watching their star players leave and lift trophies elsewhere. Before we get carried away with what's brewing at the Emirates, let's put this early season form into some perspective.

Arsenal's four opponents so far this season—Stoke, Sunderland, Liverpool and Southampton—currently sit 12th, 15th, 17th and 20th on the Premier League table, respectively. Quite remarkably, those four teams combined have failed to win a single game to date in this campaign. That's right, 17 combined games for zero wins.

It isn't like these teams are experiencing a form dip. Liverpool endured a torrid campaign last season, Sunderland and Stoke finished 13th and 14th, while Southampton wasn't even in the division. Of course, you can argue that you can only beat the teams you play, but this doesn't say much for what Arsenal has achieved so far.

In addition, those same four teams currently sit 13th, 17th, 18th and 11th in the league in terms of goals scored with a combined 15 goals in 17 games. For all the talk of Arsenal's defensive improvement, it's easy to see why the Gunners haven't conceded in the manner they previously have. Those figures show that their opponents are far from the league's elite in terms of attacking ability.

Yes, it's undeniable that Arsenal's form in the early part of this season has been significantly more impressive than this time last year. The on-going improvement of Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain must also be noted, as well as Mikel Arteta's altered role in midfield providing a better balance.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves though.

In the next 12 days, Wenger's side face Montpellier in the Champions League, before consecutive league games against Manchester City and Chelsea. It's stating the obvious to say that these teams might present more of a challenge to Arsenal than their last four opponents.

When the Gunners head to Eastlands next Sunday to take on the defending champions, life won't be so easy. David Silva, Yaya Toure and former Gunner Samir Nasri will nullify Arsenal's usual possession dominance, as well as challenge them physically. Up front Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko will pose an enormous threat to the back four, while in defence Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott simply won't allow the likes of Podolski and Gervinho to storm into the penalty area.

When Arsenal host Chelsea the following Saturday they will face, arguably, the most gifted attacking midfield in the Premier League. Led by Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, Chelsea will pose a genuine threat to the Gunners side that lacks an out-and-out holding midfielder. While Chelsea may not be as solid at the back as City, their ability going forward is unquestionable. With Fernando Torres beginning to look as if he's ready to finally announce himself at Stamford Bridge, the Blues are a huge threat to take three points away from the Emirates.

These two games will go a long way to determining where Arsenal sit among the Premier League's elite. Two wins against these heavyweights and Arsene Wenger's side can legitimately be considered title contenders. Until that happens, the Gunners are nothing more than a side of potential, yet to prove they belong in the same breath as the Manchester outfits.

Although what has occurred to date has been positive, Arsenal fans need to step back and examine the entire picture.

In what is a marathon, the Premier League season has only just begun.