A lesson all followers of Arsenal FC learn during their journey of supporting the club is that there is nothing more dangerous than hope.
To many, it wasn’t long ago that captain Patrick Vieira was lifting the first and only golden Premier League, surrounded by the likes of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, after an unbeaten campaign which saw the champions crowned at the home of bitter, local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. With such a fairytale ending to a perfect campaign, the mighty Invincibles set an expectation for generations of Arsenal fans and players to come–yet, there is no doubt that in recent times, this expectation had reached an almost comedic level of unachievable.
Marred by managerial problems, disciplinary issues, new ownership and a captain’s curse that may or may not be true, what was once mighty came crashing down, and invincible became all but invisible.
Almost 20 years later, the Invincibles are a fever dream as Arsenal’s struggles peak. With consecutive 8th place finishes in the League, the summer transfer window before the 2021/2022 season was Mikel Arteta’s chance to improve his side, and six crucial signings were made with that goal in mind. The £50m transfer of Ben White was the one met with the most criticism, with many claiming that Arsenal had overpaid for a defender that would not succeed. And after starting their season with a 2-0 away defeat to newly-promoted Brentford FC, the criticism surrounding Ben White, Mikel Arteta and the Arsenal Board showed no sign of slowing down.
Following that defeat, Martin Ødegaard and Aaron Ramsdale were brought into the side. Arsenal then suffered another 2-0 defeat, this time to London rivals Chelsea, and an embarrassing 5-0 defeat to Manchester City, which saw former captain Granit Xhaka sent off for a foul on João Cancelo. Deadline day signing Takehiro Tomiyasu was brought in to further strengthen the defence, but Arsenal fans had already begun to write off the season.
After this nightmare start which left Arsenal in 20th place, morale was at an all time low as the club were deemed relegation contenders; and calls for new owners, a new board, and a new manager were being made. For the first time in Arsenal’s history, it seemed the critics were right–and all hope was lost.
Arsenal’s fourth game of the season was a vital clash against 19th placed Norwich City, the only other side to lose their opening games. In a shocking change to the lineup, newly-signed and highly-criticised goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was chosen to start over Bernd Leno–and it proved beneficial as Arsenal scraped a 1-0 win which elevated them out of the relegation zone, and kickstarted their campaign proper. They went on to win all their games that month, and Mikel Arteta was named Premier League Manager of the Month, the first time an Arsenal manager had won the award since Arsene Wenger in October 2015.
Arsenal remained unbeaten in the League until their November clash with title-contenders Liverpool at Anfield, a stadium famous for its atmosphere and notoriously difficult to play in. Despite their 4-0 defeat, Arsenal remained in 5th place, and a small spark of hope for a top four finish, a coveted spot in the Champions League, was ignited at the club.
Defeats in December had fans restless, but that was quickly forgotten when Arsenal announced that striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the club’s revered captain, was stripped of his captaincy due to various disciplinary breaches, and was suspended from the team. Uncertainty about the future of Arsenal loomed, but back to back wins rocketed the club into fourth place for the first time in the season, and Arsenal ended the year on a winning streak.
Inconsistency in the new year left Arsenal dropping and rising from 6th place to 4th place, and the failure to sign a replacement for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January was met with harsh criticism.
After the side was plagued by injuries, which ruled out crucial left-back Kieran Tierney and defensive midfielder Thomas Partey, problems with squad depth became clear and criticism of the side grew as they suffered back to back defeats.
Following their losing streak, crucial wins against Chelsea, West Ham, Manchester United and Leeds saw Arsenal jump back to 4th place, and they quickly became favourites to secure 4th place. A loss to Newcastle dented their chances greatly, but Arsenal had one final chance to secure Champions League football.
On the 25th of April 2004, Arsenal’s Invincibles won the Premier League at White Hart Lane, the home of their greatest rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. On the 12th of May 2022, 18 years later, against the same rivals, they had the chance to secure a top four finish for the first time since 2016.
A lesson all followers of Arsenal FC learn during their journey of supporting the club is that there is nothing more dangerous than hope. This lesson was solidified when the most crucial North London Derby in years ended in a 3-0 defeat.
Arsenal’s season ended in heartbreak–but there was no doubt that Mikel Arteta was building something special. Former captain Granit Xhaka mended his relationship with the fans following the incident that had him stripped of his captaincy, morale at the club had increased with players praising Mikel Arteta and the project he was building. Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale quickly became fan-favourites, crucial to Arteta’s project and the future of the club. In short, Arsenal fans started loving their club again.
The transfer window prior to the start of the 2022/2023 season was Arteta’s busiest yet. The arrivals of Gabriel Jesus, Oleksander Zinchenko, Fabio Vieira, Matt Turner and 19-year old Marquinhos were met with excitement, and the return of defender William Saliba from consecutive loan spells in France further added to that.
Arsenal enjoyed a flawless pre-season tour in the United States, and carried that form into their Premier League campaign, which has seen them win 6 out of the 7 games they’ve played and maintain their spot in first place, with Mikel Arteta winning Premier League Manager of the Month.
On Sunday, September 18, 2022, Arsenal played Brentford FC away, the same fixture they lost 2-0 in the previous season–and they breezed past them to reclaim their spot at the top of the table with a 3-0 win. Goals from new arrivals William Saliba, Gabriel Jesus and Fabio Vieira secured the win, showing the stark difference in the side that had previously been defeated by Brentford.
Following this win, it became evident that Arsenal have come full circle. Only four players that started in the side that lost to Brentford at the beginning of last season were starting on Sunday, and the relegation calls that plagued Arsenal at the beginning of last season are nowhere to be found. Instead, there are calls that Arsenal could very well be title contenders if they maintain their form, and a top 4 finish has become the bare minimum.
A lesson all followers of Arsenal FC learn during their journey of supporting the club is that there is nothing more dangerous than hope–but Mikel Arteta has done the impossible. Under his leadership, Arsenal and its fans have united in a way the club has not seen since the mighty Invincibles, and though the chance of another Invincible season is next to impossible, there is no doubt that Arsenal are more exciting than they have been in years.
Arteta’s project is now running at full force, and the voices of Arsenal fans ring louder than ever in every stadium they play at, as they chant:
We’ve got super Mik Arteta, he knows exactly what we need…
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