WHEN you think of those great Arsenal sides of the past, some of the greatest names to play the game come to mind.

Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp are the obvious two, although there were so many others that you are spoiled for choice.

Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey are fast-emerging as one of the most important midfield pairings in Arsenal's Prem history

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Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey are fast-emerging as one of the most important midfield pairings in Arsenal’s Prem historyCredit: Reuters
The Gunners' most famous link-up in the middle was Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit, who helped them win the Double in 1997/98

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The Gunners’ most famous link-up in the middle was Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit, who helped them win the Double in 1997/98Credit: Action Images – Reuters

Everyone remembers the fantastic football they played, how they would rip sides to shreds with their brilliant passing game.

Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit were magnificent in the Gunners’ midfield and then Cesc Fabregas and Gilberto Silva after them.

All great players and, although you don’t immediately think of Arsenal as a team of scrappers, up for a battle with anyone who fancied it.

If things turned rough, those midfielders were all willing and able to fight against the best of them.

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They didn’t lose many, either, and you can add Ray Parlour to that list, as well.

And that is  the thing you get with all the great teams.

They can all turn on the style but you need to have a bit of a snarl to your game as well.

Well, there have been plenty of Arsenal sides since those glory days under Arsene Wenger who have played great football.

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But when it got a bit nasty and they needed to roll up their sleeves, too often heads went down instead and they would be outmuscled.

It has been their undoing so many times over the years.

So when Arsenal went top of the Premier League table in August, most of us thought it was only a matter of time before things went belly up again.

Only this season there is no sign of that happening.

Mikel Arteta has got such a great blend that nobody is asking if they’re the real deal any more, as we  can all see that they are.

Their football has been right out of the top drawer, with Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka magnificent down the wings, while Martin Odegaard is just  having a simply sensational season.

But while they have the magicians — and none bigger than Odegaard — this time they’ve also got the dogs of war.

And that could be the crucial thing that gets them over the line.

Because while Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey might not win prizes for midfield style and sophistication, they have played as big — or maybe even bigger — part than most.

Arsenal playmaker Martin Odegaard is having a 'sensational season'

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Arsenal playmaker Martin Odegaard is having a ‘sensational season’Credit: Getty
Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry formed a brilliant attack in front of  Patrick Vieira and Co, but the current Gunners are exciting too

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Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry formed a brilliant attack in front of Patrick Vieira and Co, but the current Gunners are exciting tooCredit: PA

Both of them are real fighters — big, strong, powerful and aggressive — like a couple of minders taking care of the ball players around them.

There’s no messing about, they just steam in, break things up, win the ball and then give it to others to make things happen.

Partey looks the player we always felt he was, while Xhaka has gone from someone his own fans hated to someone they love.

You’ll see how important they are in today’s North London derby because Tottenham will be right up for it — and any side with Harry Kane in it always has a chance.

While Arsenal have the magicians — and none bigger than Odegaard — this time they’ve also got the dogs of war.

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But if Xhaka and Partey get on top in the middle, then I think those wingers will give Spurs’ full-backs a really tough afternoon.

I can’t see Arsenal leaving with anything less than a draw, and  maybe three points, with how they’re playing.

The bookies still make Manchester City title favourites and, obviously, when they’re in full flow they can mow down anyone.

But they’ve also had a few bad performances this season, with a shock cup defeat at Southampton and league loss at Manchester United yesterday.

Brentford went to the Etihad and won, Everton got a point there on New Year’s Eve and City are  well capable of chucking in the odd bad one.

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Arsenal and City still have to play each other twice in the league and it could be a different story after that.

But it’s definitely the Gunners’ title to lose  — and this time nobody sees it as only a matter of time before they do.



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