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Arsenal Have Announced Themselves as Serious EPL Title Contenders

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 06:  Santi Cazorla of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at the Boleyn Ground on October 6, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
James DudkoFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 9, 2017

Arsenal's 3-1 away win over West Ham is a hugely significant achievement for Arsene Wenger's rebuilt team. The result and the manner of the performance confirm the Gunners as serious contenders for the English Premier League title.

The game was always going to be a strict examination of Arsenal's trophy-winning potential. That they passed the test by two clear goals, speaks volumes of the Gunners' ability to legitimately challenge for the league crown they last claimed in 2004.

The test in question was whether Arsenal could cope with and survive the physical and aerial challenges presented by West Ham and manager Sam Allardyce's direct tactics. It's a mode of play that has confounded Arsenal so often in the past.

That's why Wenger and his players can take particular pride in weathering the airborne harassment they were subjected to from robust target man Andy Carroll. Per Mertesacker's return to the defense proved vital and although Carroll provided some testing moments, Mertesacker eventually snuffed out the threat.

The Germany international restored a calmness and authority to Arsenal's defense that meant the group got stronger as the game progressed.

It should also please Wenger that his diminutive and technical-minded midfield wasn't overrun by rugged veterans like Kevin Nolan and Mohamed Diame.

Instead, pint-sized playmaker Santi Cazorla baffled and dazzled the Hammers with plenty of clever touches and tricky, assured footwork. As much as countering Carroll proved important, controlling the flow of the play in midfield is the most encouraging sign for the Gunners.

Encouraging because it shows that Arsenal are indeed capable of outwitting and finding ways through teams content to pack numbers behind the ball. Losing out to ultra-defensive tactical structures has been the bane of Arsenal's quest for silverware in recent years.

This season promised yet more frustration of this kind after Arsenal were unable to break down Sunderland and Stoke City. They also couldn't create enough openings to defeat Chelsea, against Roberto Di Matteo's carefully plotted rearguard action.

Yet Arsenal never shied away from their natural game against the Hammers. They persisted and remained determined to continue to pass their way to goals.

That they were able to play their way to three and created the chances for many more shows the Gunners can no longer be so easily stifled by opponents who stack nine behind the ball.

Resiliency and class were the keys to Arsenal's defeat of West Ham and they have been the driving forces behind the club's solid start to life without Robin van Persie and Alex Song.

Combining a battling resolve with technical quality can continue to reap rewards for Wenger's new charges, and it means the team can no longer be dismissed as genuine title contenders.

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