Arsenal may have bottled the Premier League, but at least they challenged

Image credit: ESPN UK
Image credit: ESPN UK

Let’s not beat around the bush, it’s a little disappointing that Manchester City will successfully defend their Premier League title.

Man City have put together a seemingly unstoppable winning streak at the business end of the season as they close in on a historic treble and their fifth Premier League title in six seasons.

The fact that we were questioning whether Arsenal were genuine title contenders halfway through the season showed that few were confident of The Gunners ending their near-20-year title drought in 2022-23.

Despite being the butt of football’s jokes since their 3-0 home loss against Brighton at the weekend, Arsenal can take a lot of positives from this season and should be applauded for being the only side to mount a title challenge to Manchester City.

There can only be one!

Arsenal’s downturn in form has been severe and unexpected, but it’s their first real blip in form all season. It can’t be denied that draws against West Ham United, Liverpool and particularly Southampton proved pivotal, as did losses against City and Brighton.

The Gunners have bottled it, but at least they were in the conversation. Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool all fell by the wayside early in the season, while Manchester United’s poor away form meant they couldn’t keep up with their noisy neighbours.

Image credit: The Independent

Even if the Gunners were to lose their final two games, they’d have accumulated 81 points and be at least six points ahead of Newcastle United in third. That’s Arsenal’s highest league finish under Arteta, after never finishing inside the top four under the Spaniard before.

It’s also Arsenal’s highest points tally since 2007-08 and if they win their final two matches, it’ll be the most they’ve gotten since The Invincibles won the Premier League in 2003-04.

Cause for optimism

Arsenal are a very young team in multiple senses. Despite being a club that’s got the longest run in the English top flight out of every club, there’s a real freshness about them. After being unable to spend significant money due to their new stadium, The Emirates, for a long time, the financial shackles are off.

Arsenal cannot spend the vast sums that City, United nor Chelsea can, but they do have enough of a transfer budget to spend wisely and effectively.

Image credit: Fox Sports

Looking at Arsenal’s team sheet doesn’t reveal the ludicrously expensive signings that the Premier League has become infamous for in recent seasons. Aaron Ramsdale (£24m), Gabriel Martinelli (£6m), Jorginho (£12m), Martin Odegaard (£30m) and more have all proven to be shrewd signings.

Arsenal’s academy has also been productive, with Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson and particularly Bukayo Saka all having important roles in the side this season.

In fact, Arsenal’s most-expensive signing at the club is Ben White at £50m and given how he’s performed and his future potential, he too, is a bargain in the current transfer market.

This side will get better with time too, as Mikel Arteta is still a young and inexperienced manager, while his players are on the youthful side as well. Saka and Martinelli are only 21, Odegaard is 24, while Ramsdale is 25. Even Gabriel Jesus is 26, all of these players will get better each season.

The other competitions are where the real pain is

Winning the Premier League was always going to be a big ask, but the Gunners’ faithful will rightfully be disappointed at missing out on silverware this campaign. Arsenal had two domestic trophies and one European trophy to fight for but never even threatened to win any of them.

Image credit: Goal.com

Arsenal exited the EFL Cup at the first hurdle in November, losing at home against Brighton. In the FA Cup, they lost against Manchester City in the fourth round, but admittedly, there’s no disgrace in that. However, the Europa League exit has got to sting.

Sporting Lisbon are not a bad side, as they proved by only narrowly exiting against Juventus in the quarter-finals. However, Arsenal really should’ve beaten the Portuguese side, especially after earning a decent draw in Portugal in the first leg.

Most Arsenal fans weren’t too downtrodden by losing on penalties, as it allowed them to solely focus on the league. Now though, in hindsight, it has to go down as a missed opportunity.

To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, but Arsenal lost against some bang average sides in the cups.

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