Alan Shearer column: ‘This is a different Arsenal – but they are not title contenders yet’

Alan Shearer column

It’s not time to talk about them as title contenders yet, but people now know that this is a different Arsenal to the team we saw just 13 months ago.

The Gunners’ 3-0 win at Brentford on Sunday epitomised their progress under Mikel Arteta, because we all remember what happened in this fixture on the opening weekend of last season – when the Bees didn’t just beat them, they bullied them.

Everything was different about Arsenal this time – in attack and defence, plus the way they controlled the game, and with their attitude and intensity. They ran out comfortable winners.

Part of that was down to how bad Brentford were, but it was Arsenal’s performance that made the Bees play so poorly.

I was expecting Brentford to come out flying, knowing what worked last time, and trying to hurt Arsenal. They tried to play that way again, but it didn’t work because they faced a very different Arsenal team.

Graphic showing Arsenal's starting XI v Brentford in August 2021: Leno, Chambers, White, Mari, Tierney, Sambi Lokonga, Xhaka, Pepe, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Balogun

This Gunners side is not only bigger and stronger, it is also more committed. They were better in every department and dominated right from the start.

When the Bees did attack in the same way they had at Arsenal before, with long throws or crosses into the box, they got absolutely no joy at all.

Their two strikers, Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo, hardly got a kick because Gabriel and William Saliba dominated them so much, and it was the same all over the pitch.

Yes, Brentford gave Arsenal too much time and space for their second and third goals, but those were far from the only occasions that they could not get near to them.

Graphic showing Arsenal's starting XI v Brentford in September 2022: Graphic showing Arsenal's starting XI v Brentford: Ramsdale, White, Saliba, Gabriel Magalhaes, Fabio Vieira, Partey, Xhaka, Saka, Martinelli, Jesus

Arteta has transformed the mood of the club

Only four of the Arsenal team who started that defeat against Brentford began Sunday’s game too – Ben White, Kieran Tierney, Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Martinelli.

In just over a year, Arteta has not just built a different team, he has transformed the mood of the whole club.

He deserves great credit for that, because he got a lot of criticism after the way they started last season, with three straight defeats.

This time, they have won six out of their first seven league games and go into the international break at the top of the table. They deserve it too.

Snapshot of the top of the Premier League: 1st Arsenal, 2nd Man City, 3rd Tottenham, 4th Brighton, 5th Man Utd & 6th Fulham

It’s been a strange start to this campaign by some of the big clubs, with Liverpool being nowhere near the levels we know they can be.

Chelsea have been the same, and they have had more upheaval after their change of manager.

Manchester United made a really poor start too but they have recovered well, while Tottenham are still unbeaten and are right up there along with Manchester City, who are still the team to beat.

I still think Arsenal’s main target is a return to the top four for the first time since 2016, and they have not done too much wrong so far.

Their next two league games at the start of October, at home to Spurs and Liverpool, will tell us more about whether they can sustain this strong start but, right now, their fans will be enjoying what they are seeing.

Jesus shines while Toney struggles

Toney has had an exciting week after getting an England call-up with the World Cup only a couple of months away, but this was a game to forget for the Brentford striker.

We know Toney usually relishes a battle with defenders and thrives on balls into the box, but here he lost most of his aerial battles and it was one of those days where he has to hold his hands up and say the opposition centre-halves were better than he was.

I am sure he will recover from this pretty quickly though, especially because he is going away with England for the next 10 days or so. He should get on at some stage against either Italy or Germany too, and it is a big chance for him to impress.

Only one striker stood out for me at Emirates Stadium on Sunday though – Arsenal’s number nine.

Gabriel Jesus has been brilliant since joining from Manchester City in the summer, and with four goals and three assists so far only Erling Haaland (with 11) has been involved in more Premier League goals than him this season.

We’ve seen Arteta improve the likes of Xhaka, who showed great desire and determination against Brentford, but Jesus is Arsenal’s real game-changer for me.

His move was seen as his opportunity to be the main man after often being on the bench at City and he has certainly taken it so far.

Jesus is already a huge part of what Arsenal are about now – it’s not just his goals and creativity that make him so important to them, it’s his relentless energy and willingness to run in behind defences too.

Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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