/ 30 May 2023

No trophy for second, but Arsenal lived the dream

Arsenal Fc V Wolverhampton Wanderers Premier League
Arsenal fans during their final game of the season against Wolves at the Emirates Stadium. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)


After 248 glorious days at the top of the English premier league — and a heartbreaking yet inevitable late run of draws and losses that saw the title slip away — the football season for Arsenal supporters is now formally done.

Another trophyless season, but one that leaves a sense that better is to come, that Arsenal are almost there, rather than the despair that Gunners fans have felt this time every year since 2016.

There’s no silverware when you come second, but it’s been quite a thing watching a squad made up of academy graduates, cut price scoutings and out of favour veterans discarded by wealthier clubs overachieving their way to within sight of the trophy Arsenal last held nearly two decades ago.


It’s been a heart-in-mouth 10 months since the 2-0 against Crystal Palace last August, a wonderful, maddening footballing rollercoaster that’s taken Arsenal supporters through moments of glory and despair.

The youthful Gunners claimed scalps — and points — at a record rate and all of a sudden the top four spot and return to the Uefa Champions League identified by coach Mikel Arteta as the club’s target for the season was no longer enough.

The 4-2 over Unai Emery’s Aston Villa in February made Gunners everywhere believe there was a real chance at winning the title; so did Reiss Nelson’s 97th minute winner against Bournemouth in March in a 3-2 that showed a spine missing from Arsenal teams in recent seasons.

But belief turned to frustration as the injury to William Saliba and the lack of cover took its toll, with a series of draws and losses that meant that the season was already over by the time of the 4-1 loss to City in April.

A lack of depth in the Arsenal squad — and a spate of long-term injuries among the starting back four after the return from the World Cup — saw the league trophy Arteta’s team so nearly snatched from City’s grasp slip away in the dying weeks of the season.

The truth is, Arteta’s work in progress squad were never going to win the league, but they came close enough to give Gunners everywhere hope — faith — that title is very, very, close, perhaps one successful transfer window away.

In the process, they played their own — beautiful — football.

Arsenal have a footballing identity again, a team structure and a sense of self-belief that’s there in the way they play the game, home and away, against the best — and wealthiest — in the league.

They also told a beautiful story.

Who could have scripted the redemption of Granit Xhaka, a suspect turned superhero with  seven goals and seven assists — and no red cards — two goals in what is likely to be his final game in the red and white; the return of Saliba, the back four’s Prodigal Son.

Likewise the success of Arteta, in only his third season as a first team coach, in giving  serial winners such as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola more than a run for their money, nightmares, actually.

It’s been a season of so close, yet so far, but Arteta’s squad gave Arsenal supporters and the football world a glimpse of what they are capable of at their best and notice that the rebuild under his tenure is well under way.

What’s left now is two and a half months of watching Eduardo Cesar Daud Gaspar every move in the hope that the Arsenal sporting director will — finally — break the bank and land the Gunners the additional players needed to really compete for titles at home and in Europe.

There’s no silverware to add to the cabinet at the Emirates, despite scoring more points than the 90 that saw the Invincibles take the league, unbeaten, in 2003-04, another reminder of the gap between the Gunners and the nation state called Manchester City.

There’s no FA Cup, Carabao Cup or league title to show for a scintillating season of football — the best Arsenal has played since the days of Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles —  no Europa League to compensate for the lack of domestic success.

No trophy for second place.

There’s no runners-up medal in the league, but Arsenal are back to Tuesday and Wednesday night football in the Uefa Champions League again for the first time since 2016-17.

No more Thursday nights turning out against Azerbaijan bricklayers or Lithuanian carpenters in the Europa League for Arteta’s men.

No more “you’re nothing special, we lose every week”.

Arsenal are back.