Arsenal look like a team reborn after three straight wins sent them top of the fledgling Premier League table – with even goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale saying their change in mentality has been “crazy”. So just how far can the Gunners go?
It is a vast contrast to last season when they started with three straight defeats, and even in May the mood at Emirates Stadium was low.
The Gunners were on the brink of qualifying for the Champions League but two defeats in a row in their final three games – including a 3-0 loss to Tottenham – allowed their neighbours to take fourth instead.
But after signing Manchester City duo Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko and the return of defender William Saliba from loan spells in Ligue 1, everything appears to have changed.
A 3-0 victory at Bournemouth on Saturday means Arsenal have won each of their opening three Premier League matches in a campaign for the first time since 2004-05.
Martin Odegaard scored twice in the first 11 minutes of that win, with Saliba scoring the third.
“It’s crazy how our mentality has changed from the end of last season,” Ramsdale told Sky Sports. “We’re more ruthless. We saw how close we came last season. It took a few weeks to get over. It hurt more because it was the others down the road.”
Boss Mikel Arteta, who has been in charge since December 2019, said: “Winning makes life completely different. The atmosphere is good. The unity is incredible.
“In life, difficult experiences make you stronger and make you learn more than good moments. That moment was painful and we don’t want to go through that again.”
But the Spaniard said being top after “just three games doesn’t mean anything”.
“What it means is the team is playing really well, we won three games, we’re scoring goals, we’re keeping clean sheets, the team is playing and performing well, it’s competing really well.
“But it’s about Monday and getting better at other things and focusing on Fulham [next Saturday].”
Arsenal have named the same team for all three games so far, including Brazil forward Jesus and Ukraine left-back Zinchenko, who won four titles together with City.
Former Gunners defender Martin Keown told BBC Match of the Day: “Zinchenko’s class seems to be infectious in this Arsenal team, he is setting the standards right now.”
France defender Saliba is like a new signing too, having joined the Gunners three years ago before loan spells at Saint-Etienne, Nice and Marseille.
Jesus appears to be enjoying being Arsenal’s key man up front, having frequently been a substitute and playing out wide for City.
“I think we have the Gabby from when he was young in Brazil,” said Ramsdale. “He is hungry and fighting for all the balls. I was surprised, we knew he was a great player but the type of person he is – so happy, but he has that nasty streak that he has to win and that is feeding into our team now.”
Former Brighton striker Glenn Murray, on BBC Radio 5 Live, said: “It is all part of the process with Arteta. This was the thought process of bringing him in and it has taken time. There has been a lot of emotional debate with fans, they have stuck with him.
“Jesus needs to remain fit if the title race is even a question.
“The belief was always there in the hierarchy, it was just the outside of the club that didn’t believe. Now everyone is on board.”
Former England midfielder Jamie Redknapp, speaking on Sky Sports, was hugely impressed with what he saw too in Bournemouth.
“It’s incredible, they are full of confidence,” he said. “There is a great energy about the team.
“A year ago the manager was under intense pressure – people said they had no real backbone. Right now they are complete different. They are resilient, they have strength in depth. When you can bring on players like Emile Smith Rowe and Kieran Tierney, you start to think: Why can’t they go on and really achieve something?
“There’s been a soft underbelly for a few years. Saliba looks like a Rolls Royce. He learned the game in France and looks like a man now. He’s got an aura about him.
“The upgrade Jesus has given them is beyond comprehension. I used to see their strikers [Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette] strolling around. He wants to get hurt and make challenges. It gives the right example for everyone to follow.”
Odegaard, the captain at just 23, impressed too with his first double in a top-flight game since he was a 15-year-old in Norway. Redknapp said he is “almost like the manager on the pitch”.
Gunners legend Alan Smith added: “Odegaard is a leader. He’s a fairly quiet lad around the club. He leads by example.
“He wants the ball when things aren’t going so well. He comes in on his days off. The coaches have to remind him to smile. He’s so desperate to do well, so he’s a bit intense.”