Premier League 2022-23: Did Arsenal really ‘bottle’ the league after home defeat to Brighton?
Arsenal, if you remember, had an eight-point lead over Manchester City just over a month ago. After Sunday’s defeat they are now four points behind and City require just one more victory to take their third Premier League title in a row.
And when we begin to look at, and discuss, this change of lead, we have to start there. This will be City’s third consecutive title. For those keeping score, that is the same amount of leagues that Arsenal have won since the Premier League’s creation in 1992.
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Here are Arsenal’s most league finishes over the past five seasons; fifth, eighth, eighth, fifth and sixth. City’s? First, first, second, first, first.
Coming into the season if you asked any Arsenal fan their expectations for this season, they would have told you to finish in the top four. Yes a cup run in the FA Cup or Europa League would in the nice, but the ultimate goal was to get back into the Champions League. They had an exciting young core and a clearly talented young manager, now was the time to take that step and show that they were truly a part of the big six again after so many inconsistent seasons.
If Arsenal could finish this season in that fourth position, so often the butt of a joke based on how the club used to celebrate it, and their young players could show more obvious signs of development then who could possibly be unhappy?
Ten months later and Arsenal are guaranteed Champions League football for the first time since the 2016-17 season. They have three of the top ten scorers in the Premier League this season and only Kevin De Bruyne has more assists this season than Bukayo Saka.
Martin Odegaard of Arsenal looks dejected following the team’s defeat during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Brighton & Hove Albion at Emirates Stadium on May 14, 2023 in London, England
Image credit: Getty Images
There is a great core at Arsenal from back to front; Aaron Ramsdale, William Saliba, Martin Odegaard and Saka. For the first time in what feels like decades Arsenal are actually a threat again, opposing fans are actually concerned by facing the Gunners, rather than simply dismissing it. By any metric, this Arsenal season has undoubtedly been a success.
These sorts of opportunities don’t always come around twice.
Manchester City are on a different level as a footballing juggernaut right now. There is no club in the world that has proven their ability to compete on two fronts on a consistent basis, whilst also remaining a force in domestic cups. Yes they haven’t won the Champions League, but there is no denying their status as one of the two or three best clubs in the world at the moment.
The wealth that is provided by their ownership is unmatched in football and, combine that with Guardiola and an elite training and development set-up it is hard to see them being beaten in the league for the time being.
To do so you have to be absolutely perfect, just ask Liverpool.
And for a long period of this season it looked as if Arsenal were going to be able to reach that level of perfection. Like Liverpool, they looked as if they would be able to balance European and domestic cup duties and pounce on stumbles from City whilst holding off the inevitable response from Guardiola’s side.
But it hasn’t happened and barring a titanic collapse the Gunners will miss their chance and watch City capture yet another league title.
And there are no guarantees that they will get another chance in the next five years. Manchester United look to be improving under Erik ten Hag, Liverpool and Chelsea surely cannot be this bad again (at least not on the regular) and we genuinely have no idea what the limit will be for Eddie Howe and Newcastle United.
LONDON, ENGLAND – MAY 14: Bukayo Saka of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Brighton & Hove Albion at Emirates Stadium on May 14, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Image credit: Getty Images
Arsenal are looking to become a regular in the top four again whilst trying to get back into the knockout stages of the Champions League. Given the way some of the other clubs in the league can spend compared to them this sort of run might not be possible until there is a changing of the guard or more money becomes available to Arteta and the recruitment department.
Ultimately your view on this situation will depend on your view on football and what you deem as success in the sport. If you are only obsessed with titles and think anything less is a failure then yes, this is an uncategorical bottling. But if you prefer to see growth in your team and seek entertainment above all, including titles, then this season is a success and certainly not a bottling.
As for this writer? No, this isn’t a “bottling” as Arsenal were never really title contenders even when they had an eight-point lead (when City always had at least one or two games in hand we must point out). But it is absolutely a missed opportunity. The team had a great chance to do something truly extraordinary and go down in the history books. The best the club can now hope for this season is that it becomes the season they can point back to in the future as the season they truly returned to being a force in English football once more.
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