If Arsenal finished runners-up in the Premier League and won a piece of silverware from the Carabao Cup, FA Cup or Europa League, I’d consider that a good season.
Working out what would constitute a good campaign for Arsenal is impossible when the answer changes every month among supporters and pundits.
Before the season began, some of the more optimistic and foolhardy thought Arsenal could have a go at the Premier League title. A month later, the crushing reality set in and most accepted there’d be no realistic tilt at the league crown come May. Instead, most accepted that a top-four finish and return to the Champions League would be enough.
It is, though, always a grudging acceptance, accompanied by grumbling that we should be aiming much higher. That’s always the caveat when it comes to evaluating an Arsenal season; always okay, but with a “next time, we must challenge for the title”. With players in the squad boasting the ability of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette, it makes sense.
The hunger for a title challenge is such that nothing else is good enough. We’ve already seen that three FA Cups in four years wasn’t enough to curb the rising tide against Arsene Wenger. Those triumphs have served as painkillers that temporarily numbed the pain of another poor league campaign, but would never fix the issue.
This season, many fans wrote the season off the moment a title challenge seemed unlikely. That we could win three other trophies barely registered on the fans’ mind. Right now, the treble of a League Cup, FA Cup and Europa League looks far from appealing. Yet, if Arsenal won the European competition and finished as high as second in the table, I’d consider that one of their best seasons in the last decade.
I won’t say it’s impossible, but chasing down and then surpassing Manchester City in the title race looks very unlikely at this stage. However, Arsenal’s other rivals can be caught. The likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool possess frailties and can be overtaken. If we’re ruling out the Gunners finishing top of the pile, being the next best club in the division would be consolation – especially if it came with some silverware.
I understand, of course, that nobody should settle for second-best. Nobody enjoyed finishing second in 2015/16, as Wenger’s men spurned their best chance to win the title in years. However, there are also times where you have to accept that other teams are just better. With the way this season is shaping up, Man City look to be that team – they currently sit top of the pile, eight points clear of second-place. There’d be no shame in finishing second to them.
In the end, it’s all about progress. Getting back in the Champions League would leave Arsenal in a much better position to strengthen the squad in the summer, courtesy of a boost to the finances and club’s reputation. And if Arsenal had a chance to win a European trophy, even the Europa League, would be historic.
Right now, second-place and a trophy seems achievable. A couple of months later, we could be mid-table and hoping just to get in the top six again. We could even be closer to the top than expected. Either way, our sights should be set on a topping as many rivals as we can and claiming as much silverware as possible.