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Why Arsenal’s 2022-23 campaign is still a season to be proud of

The Gunners have performed far above expectations and are ahead of schedule in their project under Mikel Arteta and Edu Gaspar, with Arsenal proving they are on the cusp of once more becoming a perennial Premier League storyteller

Well, that’s it then, isn’t it? The pendulum in the title race looks to have swung firmly in the direction of holding Premier League champions Manchester City after a young Arsenal side ultimately failed to find a result away from north London in what was a critical midweek clash in the top flight of English football.

On a night when the class gap between the two sides was once again confirmed thanks to superb performances from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland, the points lead the Gunners still maintain hardly seems insurmountable for a City outfit boasting two matches in hand while only sitting two points adrift from re-establishing their hegemonic grip on the division.

The postmortem surrounding defeat, great or small, is so often a cacophony of rhetorical soundbites that invariably trend toward the negative end of the spectrum. As fans, our acute reaction after a loss typically sees us look at what went wrong, what needs to change, who was diabolical on the pitch, and a myriad of other talking points that very easily come across as reactionary.

But not all Arsenal supporters have taken up such a stance less than 24 hours after Pep Guardiola’s Citizens ran rampant at the Etihad Stadium in front of a relatively tame home support irrespective of the evening’s occasion. Many have placed themselves in a more nuanced camp, offering perspective regarding not only what transpired last night, but more importantly, what has taken place across the length and breadth of the 2022-23 Premier League season.

Ironically, it was an avid Arsenal supporter – NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo – that offered poignant words that can certainly be referenced regarding our own situation as both a club and a fanbase, despite his own comments being directly unrelated to the result and the season.

Simply put, though it feels like it, this season has been far from a failure. Despite the growing reality that we are likely to not come away with our first Premier League win in nearly two decades.

There are a few undeniable facts to lend additional weight to that reality, too. Pep Guardiola is a better manager than Mikel Arteta. Manchester City has a better preferred XI than Arsenal. The Citizens have more depth across the entire senior squad than the Gunners are capable of calling upon. City’s coffers and spending power outstrips the north London side by a distance. These facts are irrefutable.

And perhaps that base-level understanding is all that needs to be levied when discussing another harsh reality of the current state of English football; this is City’s league, and we are all just playing in it.

After having won four of the last five league titles under the iconic Spanish manager, the benchmark that Guardiola and the club’s ownership hierarchy have established is one that is borderline impossible to match. Liverpool managed to do so three seasons ago, and by some distance, when Jürgen Klopp’s Reds unknowingly stood in the way of City banking five straight title-winning seasons.

The 18-point margin that saw them lift their 19th league trophy was impressive indeed, but it meant that Liverpool had to be as close to perfect as possible in order to do so; banking 32 wins along the way. It also meant that you had to hope City was off it if you had any hope of claiming the top spot in England’s top league. Not only did Liverpool overachieve, but they also enjoyed a season where City tasted defeat nine times while dropping points on twelve occasions.

To their credit, what Liverpool came close to achieving full mastery that campaign was one of the undeniable maxims that typically leads to a title bid; beat the teams you know you’re supposed to. They achieved the same the season prior too, when they lost just once on their way to banking 97 points but somehow, some way, could only manage to finish second, lending further weight to the notion that overperforming to an otherwordly level is hardly guaranteed to be enough.

Much of this comes down to the mere fact that, given their capacity to finance immense depth of talent across the senior team, City is better equipped to deal with the rigors of a full Premier League program, any possible injury crisis, rotation when players are out of form, while also facing a continental campaign.

Perhaps this all adds further perspective when it comes to our own title push this season on the back of the notion that not a single Arsenal supporter pegged the club as capable of putting together a title charge this term. In truth, the desire of the fanbase, and aim for the club, is to reclaim a top-four spot and get into the promised land that is the Champions League. At a strength, a push for third would have been a fantastic surprise.

As each matchday passed, and Arsenal remained at the top, so many of us found reasons to dilute our chances; unfortunately, many of those fans will likely go on and be proven correct. With a combination of injuries to key players, star men not performing to the standard in critical moments (especially of late), and a penchant for dropping points against opposition no serious title candidate would ever deem acceptable, it must be admitted that we too have overperformed.

In performing well ahead of our current capacity, however, we have also seen what we are truly capable of moving forward once we raise our own level via a handful of pivotal avenues; from adding more depth in quality, young players gaining even more experience, and Arteta continuing to develop as a brilliant manager.

None of this is to say that we should not be disappointed. We should be. The chance to win a title ahead of one of the financial juggernauts in the modern game does not cross your table every season, and much of that concern has made the rounds among the fans while many are of the opinion that this could be our only chance to do so.

Whether you follow that line or not comes down to the individual, though I will always trend toward the fact that while others the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, and Newcastle United can improve, so can we.

Boasting a squad with an average age of 24.4, Arsenal would have (and still may) become the youngest side to ever lift the Premier League trophy, besting José Mourinho’s first title-winning season with Chelsea in 2004-05 with an average age of 25. Since then, no side that has gone on to top the table come the end of term has been younger than ~26.5. The fact that we have pushed City to the limit amid such youthful exuberance is only a sign of things to come.

So while we collectively wait with bated breath in the hope that we can still manage to claim top spot come the end of the season, finishing second is no bad thing; even if that comes across as being “toxically positive.” If anything, 2022-23 is something to be immensely proud of.

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Andrew Thompson

US-based Football writer. German football guru with a wealth of experience in youth development and analysis. Data aficionado. Happily championing the notion that Americans have a knowledgeable voice in the beautiful game.

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