Don’t Be Like Arsenal FC

File photo of a football match featuring Arsenal team. Photo courtesy of Wonker/Flickr.

By Jeff Yong

If you’re a follower of English and European football, you’d know the significance of the headline!

I’m dead sure that the managers of football teams will be reminding their players of Arsenal’s follies in the April and May months of the 2022/23 English Premier League (EPL) season.

Arsenal had led with eight points in early April before the league ended in late May. But they squandered their huge advantage and allowed Manchester City to overtake them for the title. This was Manchester City’s third straight EPL title and the fifth in six years.

Arsenal had actually topped the EPL for 248 days, the longest ever held by a team that didn’t end in winning the EPL title! The EPL runs for about 300 days, give and take a few days.

Had Arsenal plodded on the remaining half a dozen matches or more, they could have lifted the trophy. But it wasn’t to be.

At the start of April, they beat 14th-placed Leeds United 4-1. Then on April 7, they went to Anfield and took a 2-0 lead against eighth-placed Liverpool before drawing level 2-2 at full time. This was perhaps the turning point or wasn’t it? The result meant the end of Arsenal’s seven-match winning streak.

In mid-April they drew with 14th-placed West Ham 2-2. On April 21, they coasted to their third draw with an unexpected 3-3 draw against bottom-placed Southampton!

To many Arsenal fans, it was unacceptable for a team that was on the verge of winning the EPL to lose to the bottom-most team! The fans already smelt danger but some still hung on to hope that Arsenal were still five points ahead of their nearest rival, Manchester City.

Perhaps, Arsenal’s lack of character and steadiness was exposed as early as in February when they lost 0-1 to 19th placed Everton, which had just signed a new manager!

The defining moment came on April 26 when they crashed to a 1-4 defeat to Manchester City who showed them who was the boss although Arsenal still held on to a two-point advantage in the league table. The dismantling of Arsenal’s dreams had begun.

In early May, Arsenal beat a crumbling 12-placed Chelsea 3-1 and a week later they scored a 2-0 win over third-placed Newcastle.

But on May 14, they crashed 0-3 to seventh-placed Brighton, Hove and Albion, a team whose name is not always on the lips of many a football fan in Malaysia.

A week later, they succumbed to a 0-1 defeat to a lowly 16th-placed Nottingham Forest team that was almost on the way to relegation in the 2023/24 season.

Arsenal’s loss gave Nottingham Forest a lifeline to stay in the EPL for another year. But the stunning result allowed Manchester City to grab this season’s EPL title with three games still to play.

In Arsenal’s final game at the end of May, they whacked 13th-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers but the big scoreline of 5-0 was a hollow victory. It only got them second place at five points behind champions Manchester City.

To use one of my favourite terms, Arsenal had stepped on the banana skin big time. They either drew or lost important matches towards the end of the title race.

“It’s when you get complacent that you get taken advantage of,” says American motivational speaker Tony A. Gaskins. How true, how profound.

In hindsight, I could say that if Arsenal had won the EPL, then Manchester City wouldn’t have scored the treble – EPL, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League. Credit goes to Manchester City’s manager Pep Guardiola and his lads.

So, Arsenal got 2nd place and no silverware. Some of the harsh words about being Number Two are these: “People don’t care about the runner-up” and “Coming in second is the same as losing”

But some of the more soothing words are: “Securing second place is akin to winning”, “Coming second means you’re still further ahead than most people” and “If you come second, work harder next time.”

Come to think of it, even 14th place West Ham managed to get the UEFA Europa Conference League title by beating Fiorentina of Italy 2-1 in the final. It has been a good year for West Ham, whose Under-18 team also won the FA Youth Cup and the U18 Premier League South title.

For Arsenal and the fans, perhaps the only consolation is that the team has qualified for the 2023/24 UEFA Championship to play against the best in Europe.