Although Arsenal sit atop the Premier League table after nine games, a certain suspicion regarding their status as titled contenders for this season's English Premier League campaign yet remains in the mind of their critics and even in some of their own fans. (See Alan Hansen's article for the Telegraph as an example.)
For some of the fans, there is the fear that the team will fall away as the campaign becomes more difficult. The ghost of past experiences still haunts them.
Was it not just five years ago that Arsenal started the campaign as strongly as they have done this season and then just melted away as soon as the first big question was posed to them?
This same ghost informs those critics who as yet have refused to acknowledge Arsenal's chances for the title this season.
Even Arsenal's players themselves are very cautious when speaking about their chances. "There's still a long way to go," they insist.
Manager Arsene Wenger admits that the real test to their pedigree remains ahead, since as yet they've not played any top sides besides Tottenham Hotspur in the league and Napoli in the Champions League.
Michael Owen, who many won't take seriously as a critic (based on his record so far), insists that Arsenal will not make top-four this season, his reason being that Arsenal do not have as many stars as their rivals (See this article by the Telegraph).
When he looks at the Premier League with an eye to selecting an all round XI, he sees no player from Arsenal that could make that lineup besides Mesut Özil. His conclusion? No stars, no top-four.
The fact that in the last decade and half Arsenal have had a tradition of finishing in the top-four, even when often discounted, did not feature in his "analysis."
But such lack of measured consideration when it comes to so-called analysis is the hallmark of much sport writing these days, so Owen might be forgiven for falling so readily in line with mediocre analysis.
BBC's Match of the Day critics do not fancy Arsenal either.
For them, Chelsea, Manchester City and even Manchester United, despite their woeful start to the campaign, are the sure title contenders. The much Arsenal will do, according to them, is contend with Spurs for the last slot for top-four.
To argue that Arsenal have successfully played two top sides in Spurs and Napoli is to argue in vain. The reason Arsenal won, goes the rejoinder, is down to these sides not showing up on the day than to any prowess on Arsenal's part.
And the detractors feel that they are not unjustified in their assessment, especially since Arsenal failed to pass their stiffest test yet: their tussle with Borussia Dortmund a week ago in the Champions League.
The suspicion with which Arsenal are held ensures that "analysis" disregards anything positive from that match—say, bar the first 20 minutes, the fact that Arsenal controlled the match and did not lose it because they had been outplayed or dominated.
That Arsenal need to prove themselves requires no argument but so do other teams. This is the reason the league is a drawn-out campaign, with different challenges posed along the way.
For example, how a so-called top team fares against lower opposition, teams that would employ destructive tactics because that's the only way they could hope to avoid devastating damage or hope to secure some result from such a match.
Or how a top team fares against B and B+ teams—teams capable of springing upsets. Or still, how a top team fares away from home, or how it handles adversities, such as bad calls from referees and injuries, or indeed how it balances having to compete on multiple fronts.
Why some teams are atomically given a pass—for example, whereas Arsenal would have been discounted long ago as far as winning the title or even finishing in the top-four is concerned, Manchester United are still being lionized despite not justifying such a considerations—may be down to these factors: tradition, pedigree, money, star factor and the woeful nature of sports journalism.
Manchester United are still considered title contenders because they've had a consistent tradition of winning, whereas the same can't be said of Arsenal in the framework of the last decade, even if they too have had a consistent tradition of finishing among the top teams.
Manchester City are considered automatic title contenders, not because they've demonstrated a consistent tradition of winning but because they've become top spenders and because their side is star-studded. Stars equal titles and trophies, so goes the automatic logic.
History, though, shows that this may not necessarily be so.
France had stars in its ranks in the 2002 World Cup, yet crashed out of the first round of the competition. The same was true also of the Netherlands in the 2012 European Championship. Did the Galacticos succeed in putting Barcelona to the sword despite being a star-studded side?
Although Chelsea haven't been consistent in the last four campaigns as far as winning the league title goes, they too have established a tradition of winning. Just count their trophies in the last few years. And the fact that Jose Mourinho has returned to the club as manager equals automatic success.
But whether or not Mourinho will be able to rekindle his earlier midas touch is left to be seen. Although commanding a side full of stars, he was unable to accomplish his task at Real Madrid—the task of breaking Barcelona's domination.
In his first era at Chelsea, he enjoyed the luxury of funds that enabled him to buy any stars he wanted—a luxury that Wenger did not enjoy at Arsenal. Now he has a competitor on the same ground: Manchester City. How is he going to fare?
The perceived bias against Arsenal in sports writing might be seen in the consistent preference for Spurs in the last three seasons in which they are declared the better side, even though Arsenal have constantly been better.
This constant bias might make a cynical person think someone is paid to peddle this unyielding prejudice. Just wait for the tail-end of the campaign, and you will see a major interview in a major paper by Ledley King declaring Spurs much better than Arsenal and how surely they'd finish above Arsenal.
But whereas Arsenal fans might moan, gripe and stomp around, this changes nothing. Equally, the fact that some "critic" discounts Arsenal does not change anything either. The fact that they say such and such team will win the title will not make it so any more than saying Arsenal would win it would make it so.
What is true and trustworthy is that Arsenal's destiny this season is in their hands, as has always been. If they want to win the title, they should go out and just do it.
If they want to be considered a top team it lies in their hands to make it so, and the sure way of doing so is by beating the top sides: the Chelseas, the Manchester Cities, the Manchester Uniteds, the Liverpools, the Evertons, etc.
So rather than moan and gripe, Arsenal should settle the argument about their pedigree on the pitch. In doing so, they'd make fools of their critics and doubters.
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