We’re in the middle of March, and that can only mean one thing, we’re also in the middle of Arsenal’s annual “season in crisis” patch of form. Knocked out of the FA at the weekend, on the verge of being knocked out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage yet again, and only a faint glimmer of hope remains for them to win the title. It’s just soooo Arsenal that even in a season where Man United, Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool are all well out of a title race, The Gunners are still staring at a probable 3rd place finish.
Even if Arsenal were to win all of their remaining 9 league fixtures, the maximum points total they can reach this season would be 79 points, if they were to win the title with that number, it would be the lowest points total for the Champions in 18 seasons. Arsenal’s last 3 seasons (4th, 4th, 3rd) saw them amass points totals of 73pts, 79pts and 75pts. Even with everything else going on around them this season, they are just being bang average Arsenal, par for the course. And even that is giving them the benefit of the doubt that they can win all their remaining fixtures, something which is hard to imagine them doing when they have only won 3 league games since the turn of the year – against Newcastle, Bournemouth and 10 man Leicester. They’ve won 6 of their last 16 in all competitions; I struggle to seem them winning 9 out of 9.
The cliché that goes with Arsenal is that they always start strong, hopes get raised and then they bottle it in the spring. They’re spineless bottlers, or so they say. “Same old Arsenal, this happens every year with them”. So I thought I’d take a look at the last decade worth of seasons and see just how chronic their issues are.
This was the beginning of the trend for Arsenal. Still in with a shout for 4 trophies, on February 20th they were 2nd in the league when the forthcoming weeks saw them get knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn, lose a League Cup Final to Chelsea and get knocked out of the Champions League in the last 16 by PSV. In the league, a stretch of games from March 18th – April 9th saw them fail to win any of the 4 games they played, including 3 defeats on the spin to Everton, Liverpool and West Ham, followed by a 0-0 draw with Newcastle.
Final position: 4th
While 06/07 was the start of the trend, this year is probably the most famous one, and the season most people think of when it comes to Arsenal’s Spring Breakdowns. It’s February, Arsenal are 5 points clear at the top of the table with 12 games remaining, then comes the famous 2-2 with Birmingham City. Eduardo broke his leg (or had it broken), McFadden scored an injury time penalty and Gallas had a temper tantrum of infamous proportions in front of millions of viewers. Starting with that game, Arsenal went on a run where they failed to win in 5 consecutive league games, then lost two crucial games 2-1 to both Chelsea and Man United. Arsenal had taken the lead in both games. During that spell, they were dumped out of the Champions League by Liverpool, 5-3 on aggregate and tossed aside 4-0 by Man United in the FA Cup.
Final position: 3rd
Even though they were never really in the title race this season, they still kept up their new tradition. Scoring just 1 goal in a winless February (four 0-0 draws and one 1-1) meant that any hope of a late push, or even just finishing higher in the table were put to bed. They did have a good run in the Champions League, before being soundly beaten in the semi finals by Man United.
Final Position: 4th
“It’s the hope that kills you”. The meltdown happened later than normal this year, maybe even the latest spell of the decade. Arsenal were 2nd in the table on the 27th March, but one win in 6 games (that being a 1-0 home win v Wolves) hit the Arsenal faithful hard. The standout game of that run being when Arsenal were 2-0 up away to relegation threatened Wigan with 10 minutes remaining, and managed to lose the game 3-2.
Final Position: 3rd
2nd in the league (Jesus, I really could copy and paste some of this stuff) at the end of February, The Gunners were hunting down a quadruple. The first one was all but in the bag; a League Cup Final against an eventually relegated Birmingham City, Arsenal managed to balls it up. That was the 27th of February. The 8th of March saw them exit the Champions League in the last 16 round. 12th of March a Man United team with a midfield of Rafael, Park, O’Shea, Fabio knocked them out of the FA Cup. Their league form from the 5th of March until the end of the season was 2 wins in the final 11 games. They ended up with nothing, and….
Final Position: 4th
Another season where they weren’t ever really in the title race. This was the season of the Aguero last minute goal, and Arsenal finished 19 points behind City and United. It was also the season they lost Nasri, Fabregas and were humiliated 8-2 at Old Trafford. It was a season with no real cup run either. Early exits in both domestic cups and a last 16 Champions League exit to AC Milan added up to a bit of a nothing season for Arsenal. They did find time for a mini Spring slump though; winning only 3 of their last 8 league games of the season.
Final Position: 3rd
This is the year that Arsenal bucked the trend. As a “Fuck you” to all the people waiting for a Spring collapse, Arsenal went and got their shit patch out of the way nice and early. They won just 5 of their opening 15 and were midtable heading into December. They got their act together around Christmas and had a strong second half of the season. This was around the time when Arsenal fans kept talking about their form over a calendar year instead of a season like normal people do. If only they could have stuck the second half of this season with the opening half of the next. Another year without a domestic cup run of note, and the also traditional last 16 Champions League exit occurred again.
Final Position: 4th
You know what, this was the year I thought they had cracked it. They had shown some real mental strength through a tough Christmas spell, and they performed a bit of a mini “Great Escape” in their Champions League group (which had Dortmund and Napoli) when they looked dead and buried at the half way point of the group. Maybe Arsene’s kids had matured into men? They were 1st – yes FIRST – in the Premier League table going into February. However this was the season where Mourinho coined the “Specialist in Failure” nickname for Wenger, as between the 8th of February and the 6th of April they won just 2 out of 9 league games. Including crushing 5-1 and 6-0 defeats to Liverpool and Chelsea respectively. Despite the heart shown in the group stages, they still went out at the last 16 stage of the Champions League. As a side note, they also failed to beat Moyes’ United in a season when everyone was beating Moyes’ United.
They won the FA Cup. Wenger finally got his hands on some silverware again. To be fair, it should be noted, they showed a lot of bottle in the final; having gone 2-0 down very early to Hull City, they could have just been typically Arsenal for the day, but they rallied and won 3-2.
Final Position: 4th (1st on February 8th and still finished 4th) and the FA Cup.
Maybe they were getting a bit stronger, but there was no real collapse this year. They were never realistically in the title race either – and you can’t bottle something you’re not in. They did only manage to win 2 of their last 6 league games and had the obligatory last 16 exit from the Champions League, so some things remained normal. They retained the FA Cup, beating Aston Villa in the final.
Final Position: 3rd
All in all, it’s not pretty reading if you’re an Arsenal fan. It’s really ugly reading if you’re a season ticket paying Arsenal fan. In the last decade they have had six 4th place finishes and four 3rd places, and you would put your money on them being in one of those positions again this year. Over the last 10 seasons the average points total for the Champions is 87.4 points while Arsenal are averaging just 73 over the same period. A total they are bang on course for again this season. Looks like same old Arsenal to me.
by Andrew Furlong