Gunners finish with a win but no glory | Football News - Hindustan Times
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Gunners finish with a win but no glory

May 19, 2024 11:08 PM IST

Arsenal’s wait for a Premier League title will go into a 21st year after finishing two points behind champions Manchester City

“Do you believe in miracles?” Mikel Arteta was asked ahead of Sunday’s home game against Everton. “Yes,” replied the Arsenal manager before signing off from the press conference by saying “let’s believe in miracles, guys.”

Arsenal's Gabriel Jesus and Jorginho during the lap of appreciation after the match(Action Images via Reuters)
Arsenal's Gabriel Jesus and Jorginho during the lap of appreciation after the match(Action Images via Reuters)

Destiny wasn’t in Arsenal’s hands heading into the final weekend of this Premier League season. To end their 20-year wait for the league title, they had to beat the Toffees and hope that Manchester City, two points above them at the top of the table, would somehow drop points at home against West Ham. It was a tall order for the Gunners as no side in the last 35 years of English top-flight football had begun the final day of the season in second place and gone on to win the title.

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Despite hoping against hope, it wasn’t to be for Arsenal. They got the three points – they won 2-1 – but so did City, who secured a record fourth consecutive title. The buzz at the Emirates was snapped early as City scored at the Etihad within the first two minutes. Idrissa Gueye then gave Everton the lead with a deflected free-kick, but Arsenal responded quickly with Takehiro Tomiyasu and it was all square at the break. The second half saw waves of attacks from the hosts and they got the winner in the 89th minute through Kai Havertz.

It was a heartbreaking finish for Arsenal, who would have felt a sense of deja vu after coming close but missing out for the second year running. They, however, had a lot to be proud about. Their skill and resilience at crucial moments this season showed how far they had come in quick time.

Last season, when just nine games were left, Arsenal had gone eight points clear at the top. But then came a wretched two-month period that saw them fall well behind in the title race. It began with consecutive draws against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton before a 1-4 defeat to City. Then came a 0-3 loss at home to Brighton, which all but sealed the deal for Pep Guardiola’s men.

For Arsenal, it was a combination of factors that proved to be their undoing. They had set the pace for the majority of the season and player fatigue was undeniable. But perhaps the bigger concern was their inability to show composure in clutch situations. For a club that hadn’t won the title in nearly two decades, they seemed overawed by the prospect of going all the way and succumbed under pressure.

This season, though, Arsenal deserve immense credit for taking the title race to the very end. They were near the top for the most part and showed a lot more character in the business end. After a forgettable December, which saw them lose to Aston Villa, West Ham and Fulham, they returned after the break and notched up an eight-game winning streak with a staggering 37 goals.

Arsenal’s last nine games heading into the final weekend had a number of tricky fixtures, but besides another loss to Villa, they did remarkably well. City were held at the Etihad, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United were beaten away, and Chelsea were thumped at home.

In terms of personnel too, the Gunners had a lot more firepower this time around. While a number of players delivered standout performances, it’ll be fair to say that no one made a bigger impact than Declan Rice. The 25-year-old, who was brought in from West Ham for a club-record fee of 105 million pounds, was a beast in midfield and ran tirelessly throughout the season. His ability to read situations and intercept threats lent great stability to the side, while his unmatched work rate seemed to make him perpetually available for a pass during attacks.

Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba’s partnership as centre backs was another major positive, it allowed goalkeeper David Raya to get the most clean sheets (16) in the season. In attack, skipper Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka remained key figures. While Saka was the top goal-scorer for the side (16), Odegaard’s artistry in the final third and his ability to find space and produce pin-point accurate passes was world class.

After a season of incredible highs, Arsenal’s wait continues. But hope remains as they’re taking steps in the right direction under Arteta. They have a young squad, with several key players in their mid-20s, and will believe their time is around the corner.

“While we are undoubtedly proud of the progress we have made, I want to be clear that no one at the club will stand still,” Arsenal co-chair Josh Kroenke had said before Sunday’s game. “There’s so much we want to achieve, both at home and in Europe, and we’re focused on writing some exciting new chapters that build on the history of Arsenal Football Club.”

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