By Aliyu Yakubu Yusuf
At the beginning of every league season in Europe, football pundits look at the strengths and weaknesses of every team and make predictions on what they think will be the outcome and the position of every team at the end of the season. These pundits predict the likely winners of the league, the top 4 places, the relegated teams, the top scorer, the best player, the best goalkeeper, the best young player, the dark horses and so on.
I have followed these predictions on nearly all the major British tabloids like BBC, Daily Mail, GiveMeSports, Telegraph, Guardian, Athletic, etc. I did not come across a single pundit that predicted Arsenal to finish in the top 3 in the EPL. Most pundits earmarked Arsenal for the sixth position below Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United. In fact, some pundits went as far as predicting Arsenal to finish in the seventh spot below Newcastle United.
Looking at Arsenal’s title challenge from this context, it can be argued that Arsenal have punched well above their weight. By finishing second in the league, the Gunners have overachieved relative to everyone’s expectations at the beginning of the season. I have no doubt that most Arsenal fans who are now disgruntled would have indeed accepted the second position gleefully were it offered at the beginning of the season.
Arsenal’s squad is full of players in their mid or early twenties. Most of these players have never experienced a title race in their careers. The current disappointment may serve as a learning curve for Arsenal players. With Saka, Jesus, Odegaard, Martinelli, White, Ramsdale, Saliba, White, Smith-Rowe, and Gabriel approaching their primes, the future certainly looks bright in the red half of North London. A glass half full.
For the 36 weeks so far played in the EPL, Arsenal led the table for 29 weeks. In other words, the Gunners sat at the top of the table for more than 90% person of the matches played. And having led the EPL table for so long, it must be quite disheartening for the Gooners to lose the title in this disappointing fashion.
At a time, Arsenal appeared to be running away with the EPL trophy. However, most Arsenal fans will remember when their team seemed not to put a foot wrong when everything Mikel Arteta touched turned into gold. Thus, it must be heart-breaking to “bottle” everything when victory looks so tantalisingly close.
This season represents a golden opportunity for Arsenal to slap their 19-year wait for the EPL title. Considering their lofty standards, Manchester City were relatively poor for most of the season. Save for the last two months, Liverpool were having one of their worst seasons in recent memory. Chelsea were having a season from hell. Manchester United were in their usual shambles, though the coming of Erik Ten Hag has brought some semblance of calm. Spurs are just…well, ‘spursy’.
Looking at the whole picture, most of the EPL big boys were largely underwhelming for most of the season. It is difficult to imagine Liverpool and Chelsea having another miserable campaign next season for the Gunners to capitalise on. Therefore, this might just be a good opportunity missed. As I said earlier, most of Arsenal’s crop of young players have performed tremendously this season. This may spell trouble for the Gooners in the near or distant future.
Arsenal have grown a reputation of selling their best players just when they appear to hit their peak. Players like Fabregas, Nasri, Van Persie, Adebayor, Hleb, Toure etc., were all forced to leave Arsenal to realise their dreams of winning the big trophies. Will the current Arsenal players resist the temptation if (or when) big boys come calling? The vultures come circling. And this may well be another Groundhog Day for Arsenal. A glass half empty.
Aliyu wrote from Kano. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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