The Guardian: LONDON, England, By Nick Ames – It was tempting to pinch oneself when Rob Edwards, invited to pour forth about the opponents who had just eased past his Luton side on Wednesday night, set them apart from the other title contenders. “Maybe they’re the one team out of the three who are fighting at the moment that can play any game,” he said. “If it’s a physical game, if it’s a footballing game, if it’s a running game, whatever it is, they’ve got the answer. They’ve got the personalities who will play any way.”

Arsenal FC v Luton Town - Premier League<br>LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 03: Oleksandr Zinchenko of Arsenal reacts and goes down after being fouled by Ross Barkley of Luton Town (obscured) during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Luton Town at Emirates Stadium on April 03, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Edwards really was talking about Arsenal and it is hard to think of a plaudit that could speak more highly of their evolution. For years they had been viewed as a potential soft touch among rivals, even if that would not always be expressed out loud. In the final decade of Arsène Wenger’s reign their football was unstintingly attractive but held back maddeningly, it often felt, by the dogma that there was an “Arsenal” way to win games and trophies. They were usually nice to watch but Mikel Arteta, four and a quarter years into the job, has transformed what that compliment should entail. It speaks volumes that this season’s attacking and defensive records outshine everyone else.

“To play nice, I don’t know what that means,” Arteta said on Friday. “Nice is with the ball always, nice is without the ball as well, nice is when you have to play in certain areas and spaces on the pitch: with what kind of density do you play nice? In the end it’s how you compete and how you make life difficult to beat the opponent.”

Manchester City and Kevin De Bruyne struggled against Gabriel (left) and William Saliba as Arsenal demonstrated their steely resolve – Dave Thompson/AP

Arteta had spoken earlier in the week about casting aside “ideology” in the tedious but exceptionally useful draw at Manchester City. Now, before a trip to Brighton that brings its own challenges, he elaborated on the thought. In essence, the nicest football for Arsenal at this point will be the kind that wins a first Premier League for 20 years. It will involve scything through their opposition when at their flowing best but will also require rolling up the sleeves, mucking in and showing a more pragmatic edge when required.

Kevin De Bruyne duels with Gabriel and William Saliba in the stalemate between Arsenal and Manchester City
Manchester City and Kevin De Bruyne struggled against Gabriel (left) and William Saliba as Arsenal demonstrated their steely resolve – Dave Thompson/AP

“Every game demands different things,” Arteta said. “There are certain teams that try to tell you to play a certain game and when they do tell you, you have to play in the best possible way. When you have the adaptability to do that and still be better than the opponent playing that game, then you have a big advantage. We have to play all kinds of game.”

Sometimes, when you are dragged into the mire, the only way out is to win the mudfight. Arsenal are capable of doing that now, Declan Rice’s presence in front of William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhães has completed an imposing spine. For all that, Arsenal have tended to pull through cleanly: their 44 bookings is the lowest tally among top-flight teams.

“Probably we haven’t been talking about it that much and maybe that was a factor,” Arteta said, half-joking about their disciplinary record, with the suggestion that expressing fears about the risk of yellow or red cards to his players had become self-fulfilling in the past.

Arsenal may need a dab of all the qualities Edwards identified if they are to return from the south coast with their current levels of satisfaction intact. Brighton may be slightly short of the fizz that earned sixth place last season but nobody in Arteta’s orbit needs reminding of the 3-0 defeat at the Emirates last May that effectively secured Manchester City the 2022-23 title. “A good learning day, that is what I would say,” Arteta said using the heavy benefit of hindsight.

Brighton can hurt Arsenal with their football again and it feels the kind of assignment where the visitors’ physique, far less pronounced a year ago, can set a platform for Martin Ødegaard and company to shine through attacking ferocity.

Arteta was asked whether Arsenal were redeveloping the kind of aura last seen when foes lining up in Highbury’s cold, tight corridors were mortally wounded before entering the pitch. “I’ve been in the tunnel playing with a different shirt looking at the Invincibles and I had that feeling: ‘Tonight is going to be really tough,’” he said. “Hopefully we can create that. I think that would be something very positive for the team.”

Arteta played in an Everton side that lost 7-0 at Arsenal’s old home. Perhaps, when his current team went on an extraordinary goalscoring run between late January and early March this year, the sense of inevitability felt similar to some of those lining up opposite. They remain fallible, evidenced by the fact Bukayo Saka’s absence would be a significant blow if he is not passed fit to play at the Amex Stadium, but their manager feels they are equipped to handle whatever comes their way over the next six weeks. “The team has matured,” Arteta said. “They have found their own rhythms, their own leadership, their own way of managing certain things.”

Arsenal’s blend for all seasons feel equipped to crown their most convincing campaign in two decades.

Top Feature: Arsenal’s Oleksandr Zinchenko flanked by figures who are likely to be key in stopping Brighton: Declan Rice (left) and William Saliba – Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC/Getty Images