IAN LADYMAN: Arsenal have been terrific, but they won’t even come CLOSE to winning the title

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Nottingham Forest deserved their victory over Liverpool but it’s worth noting the players who, for one reason or another, were not able to play for Jurgen Klopp’s team.

Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz, Thiago Alcantara, Joel Matip, Ibrahima Konate, Darwin Nunez and Naby Keita were all unavailable.

I mention this not to talk down Forest’s achievement but to illustrate what life is like in this hectic and crammed Premier League season. Specifically I mention it because at some stage we can expect it to happen to Arsenal.

Arsenal’s form at the start of the season has been as extraordinary as it has been surprising

Jurgen Klopp was without several of his main stars in the 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest

Jurgen Klopp was without several of his main stars in the 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest

The north London club’s record as we approach a quarter of the season played is as extraordinary as it has been surprising.

The contrast to the meek way last season ended is marked. Arsenal kept faith in coach Mikel Arteta’s vision when things were not good and have been rewarded with the shaping of a team in the very image of a Spaniard who, as a player, was both clever and mentally durable enough to thrive in the Premier League.

But Arsenal will not win the league. They will not come close to winning the league. Even now, after such a terrific start, a place in the top four next May would be a significant and worthy achievement.

At some stage, Arsenal will suffer the injury setbacks that come the way of all squads over a long season and this is where the stockpiling of talent that has been under way for so long at clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea and even Liverpool is likely to come in to play. 

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Mikel Arteta’s side have lost only once in 15 games in all competitions in the 2022-23 season

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Arsenal do not have the strength in depth that their rivals can boast

Arteta’s squad is deeper than it has been for a while. Already the Spaniard is coping without one of his key summer signings, Oleksandr Zinchenko, and the talented young playmaker Emile Smith Rowe. At left back Arsenal are remarkably well-stocked. Kieran Tierney, once a fixture, struggles to make the team these days.

Elsewhere, though, Arsenal look vulnerable to the vicissitudes of form and fitness. Is there are a replacement for centre forward Gabriel Jesus or the terrific Norwegian midfielder Martin Odegaard? Probably not. The central defensive partnership of Gabriel and William Saliba also looks fundamental.

So this is an Arsenal group that looks short in terms of making a proper dent in City’s run of titles that we can expect to extend to five in six seasons this time round.

Arteta will know this, too. But he will also know that the signs of real progress are evident.

For so long Arsenal were said to be mentally and emotionally uncertain simply because they were. Last season ended with them needing results at Tottenham and then at Newcastle in order to finish in the top four. 

Arsenal may struggle to replace star striker Gabriel Jesus if he should succumb to injury

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Arsenal may struggle to replace star striker Gabriel Jesus if he should succumb to injury

They were dreadful in losing both games. There seems to have been a shift, there. Arteta has bought goals in the shape of Jesus but it is the collective will that seems to run through Arsenal now that is different.

It is a shame we were robbed of the game with City that should have taken place in midweek. It had to be postponed because of Arsenal’s Europa League fixture.

When it eventually does take place, the chances are gravity will have taken its toll on Arsenal a little.

A Champions League placing would represent sound work by Arteta. He is building a platform that few would have thought likely last May.

Qualification for next season's Champions League would represent real progress for Arsenal

Qualification for next season’s Champions League would represent real progress for Arsenal

It’s sad to see who Cristiano Ronaldo has become 

Back when the press used to travel to European games on the same plane as Manchester United, I recall Edwin van der Sar scrabbling for his luggage in the overhead locker only to pull out a Louis Vuitton vanity case.

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Cristiano Ronaldo has been axed from the senior Manchester United squad

‘We know who that belongs to,’ the goalkeeper said witheringly as Cristiano Ronaldo inched down the aisle.

He was as vain as they come, Ronaldo. Right from day one. Few footballers have ever spent as long in front of the mirror.

But at Old Trafford — in that toughest of dressing rooms — they gave Ronaldo the wriggle room they needed. They indulged him. And they did so because he delivered.

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Nobody worked harder, nobody listened more, nobody stayed out on the training pitch longer. On the field, meanwhile, he was one of the greatest they ever saw.

That is why Roy Keane and Gary Neville argued about him on Sky on Saturday night. Because they care. Back in the day — as Ronaldo’s team-mates — they loved and admired him in equal measure.

This is just one of the reasons why seeing the 37-year-old behave as he is right now is so very sad.

Ronaldo was allowed wriggle room during his first stint at United as he delivered consistently

Ronaldo was allowed wriggle room during his first stint at United as he delivered consistently 

Credit Michael Beale for knowing his limits 

Ambition can sometimes smother self-awareness in football but not in the case of Michael Beale.

Micheal Beale declined Wolves' approach

Micheal Beale declined Wolves’ approach

The QPR head coach has been a manager for less than five months so when he was asked to take over at Wolves in the Premier League, he declined.

‘It’s all come a bit too soon,’ he said. ‘At times if we’re doing well there will be speculation and temptation. I don’t think we are anywhere near where I want QPR to be. We have a lot to do but I’m excited by it.’

Beale deserves credit for suspecting that he didn’t have the experience to take a Premier League job. But if he could see it, why on earth couldn’t Wolves?

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