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Arsenal’s Season – A Backfired Gamble or a Bottle Job?

Two seasons of massive underachievement prior to this one, ensured a large percentage of our fan base had vastly reduced expectation levels at the beginning of this campaign. I’m frequently reading how we overachieved this season. In my opinion we didn’t. When the transfer window closed in the summer, I was relatively pleased with our business. Although I was disappointed not to see a forward arrive, I believed that without European football, we would challenge for the a place in the top four. We did exactly that.

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Expected Arteta’s Arsenal to fight for top four spot.

 

Much has been made of the turnaround in the clubs fortunes after three defeats at the start of our league season. The response to these was never as miraculous as suggested. Two of those losses were against teams everyone predicted to finish in the top four and take points from many of our rivals too. Both did. In reality, playing away from home against a side still buoyant after promotion in their opening Premier League fixture, was never likely to be a walk in the park either. Particularly given the Covid related circumstances surrounding our preparations. In truth, only eternal optimists would have anticipated us gaining more than a maximum of one victory by the end of that schedule. Effectively making it a three point recovery, not the nine that many make it out to be.

Several months ago, in a previous article, I stated that with how things were transpiring during the campaign, it would be a significant disappointment to me if we didn’t finish in the top four. Before anyone asks the question, I felt that way even before we knew it would be a straight fight between us and that lot up the road. Finishing below them obviously further enhances my disappointment. As a fan base, we have often called Spurs bottle jobs but sadly, our own team have now fallen into that category. Whether we like it or not.

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Time to accept we bottled top four spot.

Like many, I feared our lack of investment in January would ultimately end up costing us. Unfortunately, this proved to be the case. Taking into consideration that those who were allowed to leave during the same month has barely featured, it’s true to say that the players remaining were the ones who had got us into Champions League contention in the first place. However, it was almost inevitable that we’d suffer from injuries and fatigue in the long haul. Undoubtedly, the Kroenke’s will take the brunt of the blame but I believe that Mikel’s role in that is open to scrutiny too. It was a costly gamble that simply didn’t pay off.

I don’t know why but many of our supporters are sugar coating their disappointment. Is it because they believe it somehow makes them better fans if they say they’re happy because the team achieved or improved upon their pre season ambitions by finishing in the top five? Or perhaps it’s because they believe it would make them a hypocrite to criticise the players if they predicted us to finish fifth or lower in the summer? In my opinion, many set their expectations too low to begin with. More so given that we finished only six points off fourth in 2020/21 despite being poor up until Christmas.

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Many supporters set expectations too low.

At the beginning of a new relationship, you don’t necessarily expect to fall in love, get married and have children but as romance blossoms, hopes and expectations about your future together naturally change. It’s no different where football teams are concerned and it’s acceptable for supporters to adjust their aspirations as the season develops. In truth, it’s logical to do so once the quality of our team and that of our competitors is fully known. I’d expect those within the club to have done the same.

Using a relationship analogy is probably quite appropriate given how our fans’ love for Mikel developed as the campaign progressed. It’s been great to hear the growing support and solidarity towards him. However, although it won’t be well received, to me it seems a little bit Spursy to be singing songs lauding our potential qualification for a cup competition. Particularly one that we’ve never won and have no real affection for. Unlike supporters of Real Madrid or Liverpool for example who have a natural affinity for obvious reasons. I know it’s where we are currently but I’m still not convinced that fans of a club like Arsenal should be glorying a chase for a top four finish. It has to be our minimum target moving forwards. Starting next season.

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Champions League should be minimum target moving forwards.

Despite my evident disappointment, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom, fifth is obviously an improvement on eighth. We have a young team and manager who should only improve. The connection between the players and the supporters is the strongest it’s been for many years too. Whatever your views about Mikel Arteta, surely nobody can deny that he portrays himself as a highly ambitious manager. For that reason, I don’t believe he would have committed his future to the club if financial assurances weren’t provided ahead of this summers transfer window. That alone gives me optimism.

Next season will surely be more challenging with our return to European competition. But I for one, can’t wait. Budapest here we come…

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Budapest beckoning?

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One Response to Arsenal’s Season – A Backfired Gamble or a Bottle Job?

  1. Edmond Hill June 10, 2022 at 9:23 am #

    Completely agree with this, Nick. Your analysis on the supposed Great Comeback from -9 points and -9 GD isn’t quite the comeback that it’s being made out to be. Only Brentford in those first 3 games was the real issue. Made the other 2 losses feel worse than they would’ve been.

    I think many fans are trying to soothe their disappointment by using the overachievement angle. Some of Arteta’s biggest fans were rubbing it in other gooners’ faces when top 4 was looking likely and in the team’s hands, doing their best I-told-you-so routine – this is why many fans were already chanting the manager’s name. Now that we bottled top 4, the chorus of overachievement is the fallback. It’s easier to do that than to honestly admit you’re gutted, and that the man whose name you were singing has let you down. Many of these are the same fans whose “positive outlook” led them to believe missing out on Europe last season was a blessing in disguise. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to come out and criticise Arteta for the calls he gets wrong. It doesn’t make one a lesser fan, just makes you an honest one, like you’ve expressed here, Nick.

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