The thing with success, is you start to take it for granted.
At Arsenal, we might argue about the importance of each, but we largely define success in three ways: trophies, Champions League football, and finishing above Spurs.
Under Arsene Wenger, we have been consistently treated to at least two of our three success criteria for 20 seasons straight. In that time, we have finished in the top four 20 times. We have finished above Tottenham 20 times. And we have won 15 domestic trophies.
No wonder we’re a bit disillusioned about this season.
But if we take a step back and consider this season in the context of the previous 20, we’re definitely guilty of taking things for granted. That means there’s far too many toys littering the streets of N5, as we cruise on down to the Emirates in our perambulators.
I was born at the end of the ‘80s, and my memories of football as a small child are distinctly sketchy. That means I don’t remember the last time St Totteringham’s Day was postponed, way back in 1995, nor do I have a strong recollection of football before the arrival of Arsene Wenger in 1996.
My experiences of Arsenal are a long way from those of my dad, then – he’s roughly double my age, yet in the first half of his lifetime we won just one league title and two FA cups. Meanwhile in the second half, while I’ve been alive, we’ve been lucky enough to witness five league title wins and seven FA cups.
It’s quite a difference.
As a kid, my dad would have killed for the kind of run we’ve had.
Spurs won the league the year he was born as Arsenal finished a lowly 11th. In fact, we only finished above them once in his first decade of life, and often not even in the top 10.
It was a bit miserable being an Arsenal fan apparently.
And then came 1971
A 1-0 away win at White Hart Lane saw us confirmed as English champions. Two extra time goals clinched a hard-fought FA Cup final against Liverpool to complete the domestic double.
It ended more than a decade of pain for Arsenal fans, and marked the start of period which would see Spurs relegated to the second division.
What if you had to choose?
As I mentioned at the start of this column, trophies are only part of the story. Likewise Champions League football for me is important, but it’s not the most important part of the success triumvirate.
No, as spring turns to summer each year, regular as clockwork, I expect to see Arsenal Football Club above Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League table.
If you ask me at the start of each season what is most important, out of a trophy, finishing in the top four, and finishing above Spurs? It would be the latter every time.
What else would you expect? I’m married to a Spurs fan.
But this year, even though there’s something very funny about Spurs having their best season ever, finishing above us for the first time in forever, and still collecting a little more dust in their trophy cabinet, I’m to be disappointed.
Meanwhile, it’s far from a given, but we could still win a trophy this year – anything can happen in a one-off game, and Chelsea are looking more vulnerable than earlier in the year. You’ve got to be in it to win it and all that.
Likewise, it’s not impossible that we could also sneak a Champions League berth either.
So does that make this season a failure?
I guess it comes down to whether your measuring stick is based on history or the present. Arsenal of the last two decades have set a minimum bar of top four and finishing above Spurs, with trophies the icing on the cake.
Back in the present, though, there are six clubs who could claim to be at the very top of English football, three of which are swimming in cash. The other two either haven’t had European football, or might as well have not, given their failure to turn up in their European ties (heh).
The truth, as ever, is probably somewhere in between. If we win the FA Cup and scrape into the top four, then this will have been a solid if unspectacular season. The kind of season, in fact, that we’ve turned in for a number of years recently, and exactly the reason so many are calling for change.
However, we could just as easily come away from the season with neither pot nor Champions League football, and that would be an undeniable failure.
One thing is pretty much nailed on though: we are going to have to let Spurs have this one, suck it up, and restore normality next season.
And for all the talk of power shifts, maybe they can come back when they’ve done a little better than one year in 21.