LONDON (AP) – Eight points clear in the Premier League, playing the most free-flowing soccer in England, and now humbling its fiercest rivals in front of their own fans.
For Arsenal, this season can hardly get any better.
A 2-0 win over Tottenham on Sunday left no doubt over who the dominant force is in north London.
And it’s becoming increasingly hard to dispute that Arsenal is the best team in the country, having claimed 47 points from a possible 54 and surged into the best position the club has been in all season in its bid for a first league title since the unbeaten “Invincibles” of 2003-2004.
Arsenal had an eight-point lead for a couple of days at the start of the month but second-place Manchester City had a game in hand then. Now they’ve both played the same number of matches — 18 of a possible 38 — and City is struggling to keep pace with the leaders.
The first-half display of Mikel Arteta’s team was irrepressible, with Bukayo Saka running amok down the right and playing a part in both of the goals.
It was a deflected cross from the England winger that was bundled into his own net by Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris at the near post in the 14th minute. Then Saka led a break forward in the 36th and slipped a ball inside to captain Martin Odegaard, who lashed home a low shot from 25 meters.
British bookmakers are now making Arsenal odds-on favorites for the title, which brings its own pressure heading into the second half of the season.
City is likely to improve and has previously gone on long, unbeaten runs down the stretch. Third-place Newcastle, which beat Fulham 1-0 on Sunday, and fourth-place Manchester United, whose derby win over City on Saturday extended its winning run to nine games, are both nine points off Arsenal.
So the candidates are lined up behind Arsenal. It just needs the leaders to falter.
There is no sign of that just yet.
“We have to stay humble,” Odegaard said. “We know we can improve.”
A spectator climbed onto an advertising board and appeared to kick Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale after the game.
The incident took place as Ramsdale retrieved his water bottle from behind one of the goals.
The spectator leaped over the railing, mounted the hoarding and aimed a kick at Ramsdale’s back before getting back into the crowd in the South Stand. Ramsdale didn’t seem hurt and was dragged away from the area by teammates before celebrating in front of Arsenal’s supporters at the other end of the stadium.
“It’s a shame because it’s only a game of football at the end of the day,” Ramsdale said.
Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic was looking to make an impression at St. James’ Park against Newcastle, where he spent 2 1/2 years and had to leave to make a name for himself in English soccer.
It ended up being a game to forget.
Not only did Mitrovic end up on the losing team, he had a goal ruled out for a double touch when attempting a penalty kick. Mitrovic slipped as he struck his penalty, kicking the ball against his standing foot and into the net.
The Serbia international wheeled away in celebration but the referee gave a foul and a free kick.
Alexander Isak’s 89th-minute goal, converted from close range from Callum Wilson’s poked cross, added to Mitrovic’s woe.
Joelinton played the whole game for Newcastle three days after his midweek arrest for alleged drunk-driving. Another of the team’s Brazilian midfielders, Bruno Guimaraes, walked off in tears after the halftime whistle having played with an ankle injury for some of the first half.
He didn’t play the second half and left the stadium on crutches and wearing a protective boot.
RELIEF FOR POTTER
Graham Potter hasn’t had this good a day for some time at Chelsea.
Firstly, his club announced the signing of one of Europe’s most sought-after young players in Ukraine winger Mykhailo Mudryk, who was paraded on the field at halftime at Stamford Bridge.
Then Chelsea held on to beat Crystal Palace 1-0 and win in the league for just the second time since October, with Hakim Ziyech crossing for Kai Havertz to head home in the 64th minute.
Chelsea stayed in 10th place but trimmed the gap to fifth-place Tottenham to five points.
There was a clean sheet for another January signing, France defender Benoît Badiashile, on his first start for Chelsea and a string of impressive saves from Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has been at fault for crucial goals in recent weeks.
“You have to understand the context of the situation we are in,” Potter said, “so it isn’t going to be sensational football all the time.”
With Mudryk signed up in a deal worth $108 million, the under-pressure Potter is hoping for better times ahead.
“He is very fast and direct,” Potter said, “and I think the crowd will like him.”