Arsenal’s response to hitting their first blip will define the Premier League title race

After a game when Mikel Arteta disputed Brentford’s goal, and debate about how good Arsenal were has fed into doubt from more points dropped, there is only thing that can be said for certain. This season – no matter what happens – was never going to be an inexorable run to the title.

There were always going to be spells of dropped points.

The big question of course is how far they extend – especially with this long-awaited match against Manchester City next up.

Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Brentford represented the first time that Arsenal had failed to win one of two consecutive games in the Premier League, and it is now three without a victory in all competitions. That alone is going to raise a few alarms, because much of the excitement of this season has been built on a momentum that hadn’t yet been disrupted.

Even two Premier League games wouldn’t be much of an issue in a normal Premier League season, it is here a very abrupt change of feeling, that will naturally bring worry over how long it might go on for – and that’s of course the key question.

It’s also undeniable it ups the pressure ahead of City. While the urgency for Arsenal to get back winning again is increasing, another dropped game would not just bring the champions closer to them. It would prolong this argument that something is starting to go wrong, that they aren’t what they were.

Arteta did make a point of stating he felt this was “a really strong performance” with the point only determined by a Brentford goal that should have been ruled out for offside. He may well have believed that, or he may have been saying it to ward off any external sense that the team isn’t at the same level, and prevent that creeping in

It is true that Arsenal weren’t especially bad in this game. It was like the 1-0 defeat to Everton, however, in that they were trying all the same moves and all the same attacks without the same intensity. They weren’t finding the same openings through the half-spaces, a marginal difference that can have bigger consequences.

It is possible that is also connected to a certain staleness in the team, since Arteta has largely persisted with the same core line-up. The fact that new signing Leandro Trossard forced the only real opening – and scored the only goal – is perhaps telling.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a big issue. It has happened to every single team, even those who have hit 95-plus points.

It was precisely what happened to Liverpool in their first challenge under Jurgen Klopp in 2018-19, at almost this exact time. From a 1-1 draw at home to Leicester City on 30 January, they drew four of six games, the one extended blip in a season when they posted a return of 97 points.

Some of that was clearly down to the time of the year, and it is possible such issues may be accentuated this season with the World Cup.

The concern is that there was a fair argument at the time it cost Liverpool the title.

The counter-argument to that is this doesn’t currently look like a Manchester City who will post 98 points. They’re dropping so many lately and something is off, before the potential consequences of those 115 Premier League charges are even considered.

It may yet be this evolves into a relatively old-fashioned title race, where dropped points aren’t fatal and instead form twists and turns in a way that dramatically enrich run-ins.

If that’s the case, this is just part of the theatre, of a type we haven’t seen for a while.

Arteta can’t afford to allow such twists, though.

“We have to be excellent,” he said afterwards, when talking about the expectations and demands of such seasons.

He has to help the attack rediscover that ingenuity and intensity.

Arteta’s side set a 100-point pace over the first half of the season

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