Should Finishing Second in the Premier League Be Considered Progress For Arsenal?


"“We have to look at it in a realistic way, I feel we have made progress and so I look at it in a positive way because what you want in the season is your team to become better.”-Arsene Wenger"

Is the gaffer right about our progress this year? After the last couple of months of absolutely brilliant play from Arsenal, the North London side looks to finish the season in 2nd place, or its in their own hands at the very least.  I must admit, albeit somewhat abashed, that this is rather exciting for me.  It does raise the question though, is finishing in 2nd place progress/something to celebrate?

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The short answer is yes.  Before we move our glance towards other clubs in England let’s look at the most important club in England: Arsenal. The past few months and really since at least December if not a tad sooner, Arsenal have been fantastic.  I think our great run of form lately would start for most after our dreadful loss to Southampton on New Year’s day.  With the exception of our unfortunate capitulation to Sp*rs in very early February, and the fluke against Monaco in the Champion’s League, we have undoubtedly been the best team in Europe in the calendar year.

To put this in perspective, Arsenal have only lost 3 domestic matches since late November of 2014, it is now May 2015.  During that period we have also beaten Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, and an underrated Monaco side.  Unfortunately over the past several years the ‘beautiful game’ has been missing from the Emirates for large periods of time.  This most recent run of form is an absolute revelation, especially when we can take a piss out of “boring, boring, Chelsea” in that regard.  Let’s enjoy it folks.

Further, the feeling around this season’s run-in is a complete contrast to at least the last 3 or 4 years.  What I mean by that is, this year we can actually relax a bit.  The mystery this year is likely not if we will even qualify for Europe, but if we will finish 2nd or 3rd.  I could seriously get used to this, and once again, let’s not take it for granted.

“In this calendar year, we’ve been the best team in Europe. It’s the strongest the squad has been and everyone is staying fit as well.”- Theo Walcott

Now let’s turn our gaze to others across the United Kingdom.  Let’s start nearby in the capital with Chelsea.  It may be easy to forget with the year they’re having, but only a few years back the West London side would have been out of the Champions League due to their domestic record had it not been for a miraculous European run by Roberto Di Matteo (who was of course promptly fired at the end of the season). It has also been 5 years since Abromovich’s mercenaries have lifted the Premier League title.

Now we must go north in our search for mediocrity.  Though

The oil barons of Manchester

the blue side of Manchester has been very successful domestically in recent memory, their European form has been lacking to say the least.  For all the criticism Arsenal have gotten for their Champions league shortcomings in recent years, Manchester City has somehow flown inept, under the radar.  They have performed no better than us and have had an astronomical amount of money to spend while we sold them our best players.

We don’t have to look very far for our next example, in the same city in fact, Manchester United.  It doesn’t take a football genius (wait for it) to see this one coming.  The club who had absolutely dominated England’s first division since it has been the Barclay’s Premier League, has been seriously lacking the last couple of years, and it’s hilarious.

David Moyes took over after the legend Sir Alex Ferguson and everything seemed to be in order – not quite.  He failed to make any real damage in the transfer market and his team was having the worst start in decades while being embarrassed in the both the Premier League and the Champions league.

Unsurprisingly he didn’t last the season. Though his tenure did produce the laughable banner put forth by Liverpool supporters claiming that Moyes was a “Football Genius”, (there you go) so at least he was good for something. This season the Red Devils enlisted the expertise of manager and Mercenary Louis Van Gaal.

Believe it nor not, Van Gaal’s first few months in Manchester were actually worse than that of Moyes.  The Dutchman has lasted the test of time thus far though and has also seemed to have turned this around. Even with their recent form, it has definitely been a disappointing couple of years and they still might get pipped for Champion’s League this year. Regardless though, United was devoid of Champions League football this year.

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And now just to the west, to Liverpool.  Liverpool has become the quintessential example of what can happen to a historically relevant club in modern football.  Historically one of the best clubs in the world has now not won the first division in 20+ years and has sparsely been good enough domestically to even warrant a European appearance (except for what can be considered nothing but evidence for the existence of a god, who is a Liverpool fan, in that Champions League final).  

“If I told you in 1990 that Liverpool wouldn’t win a championship for the next 25-years you’d have thought I was mad.”- Thierry Henry

Sadly, they have become the living embodiment of what not to become and not only can we learn a lesson from our friendly Scousers, but lets just take a deep breath and thank that Gerrard-slip-loving god upstairs.

The reason I’ve recounted all of this is because Arsenal has not had to deal with these problems.  We’ve been in the champions league for the past 16 or 17 years, had 1 manager that whole time, while building a stadium and still attempting to play attractive football the whole time.  As we can see, this alone is actually an accomplishment among other clubs.

A quick moment for le professeur while we are on the subject. This is a man who has had every opportunity to jump ship when things got tough, something which has become common place in the modern game, but he has stayed loyal to the Arsenal

Graham C99-flickr creative commons

Wenger is a man who will not compromise when it comes to his ideals for a club and for the game in general. Ideals which drew me to this wonderful club to begin with.  Sure he has been faulted at times for being too committed to these ideals, but I’d be lying if I said I would rather have someone like Mourinho rather than him.  I won’t go into full detail, but if you’ve got 10 minutes to spare, The Guardian recently published an absolutely phenomenal, if not tongue in cheek at times, article about Wenger.  I really think all Arsenal fans will appreciate it.

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Now let me be clear, 2nd place is not what Arsenal fans should be expecting on a yearly basis.  Gooners should absolutely be expecting at least a semblance of a title challenge on a yearly basis and that is what they’ve done the past two years.  Though the seasons have been total opposites, one a brilliant first half and the other a brilliant second, we’re getting there.  By the pure sense of the word progress, 2nd place is just that. Arsenal has not finished as high as 2nd place for a decade, so there’s that.

For all of these reasons I think that this season can definitely be seen as progress.  We most certainly have to keep moving forward next year, but we also have to be realistic and take this campaign for what it is.  Once again I sit upon my Highbury high horse and look down upon the rest of the premier league, but just remember the other clubs struggles next time you get upset at a result. With that I’ll leave you with a nugget of wisdom from our one and only, #COYG

"“I’ve been inspired, by people … who just did not want to win for themselves but wanted to win with a certain style. [If a fan] wakes up in the morning and thinks, ‘Oh! Today Arsenal play, I have a chance to have a great experience today,’ I’ve done my job. If we win the game – I’ve done a very good job. But at least I have to try to give people that level – that emotionally they will experience something beautiful.”"

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