The last time Arsenal played Chelsea in the first half of a Premier League season, it seemed like it was the beginning of the end for Mikel Arteta.

After losing the opener to newly promoted Brentford, Arsenal sunk down even lower. Chelsea won the game 2-0, and it could've been even worse: 22 shots to 6, 3.0 expected goals to 0.3. The Gunners were completely helpless against one of the sport's simplest patterns of play: a forward pass into a striker's feet, a lay off and then a through-ball to another runner. They made Romelu Lukaku look like Erling Haaland does today.

Well, 14 months later, and those same two teams set to square off on Sunday, Lukaku is playing for Inter again, Chelsea are struggling under another new manager (Graham Potter), and Arteta's Arsenal are atop the Premier League table. As the Gunners continue to stack impressive performances on top of each other and push their hot start all the way into November, just how far can they actually go?

How good is their start?

Through 12 Premier League games, Arsenal have won 10, lost one and drawn one. Since the Premier League was founded in 1992, just five teams have produced more points from their first 12 matches, and only four others have matched Arsenal's current total of 31 points. Here's the list, along with where they finished each season:

  1. Manchester City, 17/18: 34 points, finished first with 100 points
  2. Manchester City, 11/12: 34 points, finished first with 89 points
  3. Liverpool, 19/20: 34 points, finished first with 99 points
  4. Manchester City, 18/19: 32 points, finished first with 98 points
  5. Chelsea, 14/15: 32 points, finished first with 87 points
  6. Manchester United, 06/07: 31 points, finished first with 89 points
  7. Chelsea, 05/06: 31 points, finished first with 91 points
  8. Newcastle, 95/96: 31 points, finished second with 78 points
  9. Manchester United, 93-94: 31 points, finished first with 92 points (from 42 games)

Put simply, eight of the nine teams (89%) who have started the season at least as well as Arsenal have won the Premier League.

 

What changed?

Compared to last season, Arsenal are, well, they're doing everything better. Let's just run through another list:

  • Goals: 2.5 per game, up from 1.6
  • Goals allowed: 0.92, down from 1.2
  • Shots: 16.2, up from 15.7
  • Shots allowed: 8.2, down from 11.1
  • Field tilt (share of all final-third passes): 64.9 percent, up from 57.2
  • Touches in opponent's box: 37.2, up from 27.6
  • Opponent touches in box: 16.3, down from 20.0
  • Possessions won in attacking third: 5.2, up from 4.8
  • Passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA): 11.67, down from 13.62

In other words, they look like most elite teams do nowadays: They press high, control the field, live in the opponent's penalty area, and bury them under an avalanche of shots.

Throughout Arteta's reign as manager, they'd never quite been able to put all of that together. During the brief periods of success over his first two seasons with the club, they were still frequently getting out-shot by their opponents. While that improved last season, their press was meager-to-non-existent. Liverpool led the league with a PPDA of 9.95, Chelsea were second at 10.06, Leeds third on 10.09, and Manchester City fourth on 10.15. The clear class of the league -- and the team that was coached by Marcelo Bielsa and Jesse Marsch -- all pressed really effectively. Despite their near-miss on a top-four spot, Arsenal's PPDA was down at 13.61, just the 11th-most intense in the league.