It was summed up perfectly by Arsenal striker Alexis Sanchez.
“Sometimes the frustration more than anything is about the fact we could be challenging for the Premier League title,” he said as that title slipped away yet again. It’s a sentiment echoed by Gunners fans everywhere.
You wouldn’t exactly call it a failure of a season. Fifth place, especially when we came so close to qualifying for the Champions League for the 20th year in a row, is not a disaster and finishing second last year was by no means a crisis. Meanwhile, we won the FA Cup for the third time in four years. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but we all feel that we should be doing better. So why aren’t we?
Sanchez, whose opinion is given weight by the 30 goals that made him the club’s top goal scorer this season, thinks it comes down to attitude. “It’s just about having the mentality of being a great player and going out on to the pitch already thinking about winning,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done in the last three games. We had the mentality to win at all costs and we won and we won well.”
It wasn’t always looking so bleak.
Remember back in December when we led the pack and it seemed we were going to claim the title? Chelsea deserve a large amount of credit for their high form that snatched it away from us, but the Gunners also have to accept responsibility for the losses against Everton and Manchester City that began the backward slide.
A large portion of that responsibility rests in the hands of Arsene Wenger, who has just experienced the most turbulent season in his double-decade reign. He refused to even discuss his intentions until after the FA Cup final then he signed a new deal indicating more of the same to come.
Wenger insists he doesn’t reflect on the past and doesn’t even keep the medals from his many victories at the club, saying, “I am not a back-looker. I am always looking forward.” However, there’s going to need to be some study of Arsenal’s recent history if we are going to find the best path forward.
A good place to start would be the Invincible team of the 2003/04 season, which 888sport rightly includes among their top Premier League facts. Every Gunner old enough to grow facial hair will clearly remember those heady days when we achieved 26 wins, 12 draws and – by far the best statistic of all – zero defeats. They even commissioned a special gold edition of the Premier League trophy to emphasise the remarkable achievement of our undefeated season.
So, what has changed since then?
Well, it certainly isn’t Wenger. He was well and truly in control back then, just as he is now, and he even correctly predicted the team would claim the title without a single loss. However, 20 years is a long time as a manager of a club. It’s a very difficult thing for a fan to say, particularly given the many great years he has given us, but it might be time for some new blood in the top position.
Whenever he finally leaves, there is nobody who can say that Wenger has failed Arsenal. He’s given us some of our best achievements and the club is still doing well.
The question remains, though, can we do better?