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See Why Arsenal’s are now chief challengers to City

See Why Arsenal's are now chief challengers to City

See Why Arsenal’s are now chief challengers to City

Call it a coming of age if you like, or was this just a ringing endorsement of Pep Guardiola’s verdict?

Either way, Arsenal are a thrill-seeker’s delight at the top of the Premier League.

It used to be said that a 21st birthday marked a ‘key to the door’ moment, a moment of growing maturity and responsibility.

A new level of trust was what it signified, and perhaps Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka can now be trusted to deliver on their promise for Arsenal. Their abundant talent has never been in question, but now it’s about consistency, being a grown-up in a grown-up’s league.

Sunday’s 3-2 win against Liverpool only served to show that Martinelli and Saka, who have both celebrated that landmark 21st birthday since the end of last season, are not merely giddy talents now but stars who deliver.

READ MORE: Why we lost 3-2 to Arsenal – Klopp

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The clearing of the decks by Mikel Arteta took a while, and Arsenal’s power-brokers trusted the manager while many lost faith. The manager’s vision, shared by the club, was of afternoons such as this, where their young guns picked apart last season’s Champions League finalists and double cup winners.

Guardiola’s view, if you missed it, was that Arsenal’s position at the top of the Premier League was far from false, even while his Manchester City team take most of the early-season plaudits.

The City manager said on Friday: “We cannot forget one thing, ladies and gentlemen: there is one team that has been better than us. This is the reality. Arsenal have been better than us so far.”

Arsenal don’t have an Erling Haaland; in fact, their centre forward is a City cast-off, Gabriel Jesus.

But here they had Martinelli, Saka, a 23-year-old captain in Martin Odegaard, a centre-back partnership of Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba – 24 and 21, respectively – and young full-backs in Takehiro Tomiyasu and Ben White, too.

Thirty-somethings Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have left the building, so too for now the underachieving Nicolas Pepe, and Arsenal have not looked back.

It was quite a day for American football in north London, with the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants in action at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and the Arsenal Gunners and the Liverpool Reds on parade at Emirates Stadium.

Scoff at that all you like, but the globalisation of the Premier League means these two US-owned teams, along with Todd Boehly’s Chelsea and the Glazer family’s Manchester United, are vying to challenge Abu Dhabi-run Manchester City.

The beautiful game dictated that it was a Brazilian who brought the stadium to life in just 58 seconds.

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool used to be the swarmers in this fixture, buzzing in intimidating numbers, searching for that sweet, sweet nectar of early goals. Liverpool have stung Arsenal teams of the past with such strikes, from Robbie Fowler to Roberto Firmino.

Arsenal served them a dose of that medicine this time, with Saka finding Odegaard who fed Martinelli and he slammed past Alisson. Trent Alexander-Arnold lost the runner, with Arsenal scoring their earliest goal against Liverpool in the history of the Premier League.

Darwin Nunez bundled in a 34th-minute equaliser after Luis Diaz’s cross, but Arsenal were back in front before the break, this time with Jesus freeing Martinelli on the left, and he dashed from the halfway line into the penalty area before passing low from the left to give Saka a tap-in.

Alexander-Arnold was replaced at half-time, supposedly due to injury, but the second Arsenal goal had come from a raid down his flank too, and the Gunners plainly had his number.

Firmino cracked a throughball from Diogo Jota beyond the reach of Aaron Ramsdale for a second Liverpool equaliser, but you doubted they would have a third in them if Arsenal regained the lead.

That was Firmino’s 10th Premier League goal in 14 games for Liverpool against Arsenal, making him the outright top scorer in this fixture since the league’s 1992-93 inauguration, one ahead of Fowler.

When Thiago Alcantara nibbled at Gabriel Jesus in the 73rd minute, Arsenal had a penalty and trusted Saka with it.

He was practically a boy when he missed for England in the Euro 2020 final shoot-out, but this is Saka the man, and he picked out the bottom-left corner with the utmost confidence.

Martinelli is the youngest Arsenal player to score and assist against Liverpool in the Premier League, Opta said. He has been involved in 10 goals in his last 14 appearances in the competition.

Arteta’s win rate across all competitions has crept just above 57 per cent with this win in his 142nd game at the helm, and he stands mere decimal places behind Arsene Wenger (57.2 per cent from 1,235 games).

Having won just one of their last 14 Premier League games against Liverpool before this one, Arsenal have not merely stopped the rot.

They have started something they clearly intend to finish.

Key to the door? This team hold the key to there being any sort of title contest this season.