Arsenal’s slide from champions in waiting to second best in the land

Arsenal’s slide from champions in waiting to second best in the land
The look on Bukayo Saka's face says it all after Arsenal slumped to a 3-0 home loss against Brighton, which all but handed the Premier League title to Manchester City.(Photo: Julian Finney / Getty Images)

The Gunners were on-track to secure their first Premier League title in 19-years, but a capitulation by the young squad has left the ball firmly in Manchester City’s possession.

Arsenal started the 2022/23 English Premier League season as outside favourites for the title after finishing fifth last season, but gave their fans hope until it all came crashing down in the past five weeks.

The London side have the tied youngest squad in the league and a leader in only his third full season as a manager, so the expectations were understandably muted.

But a bright start to the season by Mikel Arteta’s men, winning their opening five matches, taking an early lead on last season’s title contenders Liverpool and champions Manchester City, the side started to believe.

By gameweek 29 – only nine matches from the end of the season – the Gunners had, somewhat surprisingly, maintained their exceptional form to put an eight-point gap between themselves and Pep Guardiola’s chasing sky-blue men.

Their leading front-men – Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and skipper Martin Ødegaard – had the team playing the fluid soccer Arsenal were renowned for under stalwart manager Arsène Wenger.

In midfield, Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey provided the engine room and grunt required to allow the free-flowing front-men to excel. 

While William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhães shored up a defence that conceded 48 goals in the previous campaign.

At that stage, Arsenal were also knocked out of the Europa League after their two-legged defeat to Sporting Lisbon, so they were fully focused on bringing a Premier League trophy to the Emirates Stadium for the first time – Arsenal played at Highbury Stadium when they last won it as The Invincibles in 2003/4.

But since their 4-1 victory over Leeds United on 1 April in gameweek 29, the wheels have well and truly come off.

Defeat from the jaws of victory

In their past seven matches, since their win over Leeds, the Gunners have only won two while drawing three and losing two.

In their most recent loss, to Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday, Arsenal were humiliated 3-0 at home, conceding all three goals in the second half.

“We have to apologise because the performance we had in the second half is not acceptable,” Arteta told the media after the loss while admitting the title race is probably over.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, players and members of the backroom staff realised that the 3-0 defeat by Brighton all but ended their title chances. (Photo: Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)

Arsenal are on 81 points after 36 matches while Manchester City are on 85 points after 35 matches, so Guardiola’s men only need one victory in the next three matches to clinch the title.

“Mathematically (winning the league) it’s still possible and this is football but today it is impossible to be thinking about it. We have to first digest the result, the performance that we had in the second half, and understand why and have a very different reaction in the next game,” Arteta added.

“We conceded a goal and from there the team had no reaction. When you give away the silly goal we gave away, the second one, the team collapsed and had no answers.

“If the team is able to do that there is something we have to address.”

Formidable Blues

Arsenal have been chased by a formidable Manchester City who have won the English Premier League in four of the past five seasons and thanks to the London side’s recent capitulation, they are on course for a fifth in six years.

Manchester City have been breathing down Arsenal’s neck for months, having won their past 11 matches in the league. They have also beaten the Gunners twice with an aggregate score of 7-2 this season.

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Arsenal skipper Ødegaard acknowledged that the title race is now over. “Yeah it feels like that,” said the Norwegian.

“It is going to be very difficult now, we have to be honest. It is tough to take.

“It is not a good feeling at the moment. The way we played, particularly in the second half [against Brighton], I don’t know what happened, to be honest. It feels like there is no hope now.”

Despite Arsenal’s second-half collapse, both against Brighton and the season as a whole, Ødegaard assured that his young team had a strong mentality during the closing stages of the title race.

“We wanted to come here and continue like we have in the last two games, get a good result and keep pushing. It is a big disappointment,” he added.

“I don’t think mentality was an issue. We were good going into the game, but in the game was a different story and we have to accept it and learn from it.”

Manchester City’s final three matches are against Chelsea, Brighton and Brentford and only a spectacular collapse will see the champions fail to retain their title. DM


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