In spite of the heartbreak suffered last season, Arsenal are in red-hot form

In spite of the heartbreak suffered last season, Arsenal are in red-hot form
Gabriel Jesus of Arsenal battles for possession with Remy Dugimont of Lens during the Gunners’ UEFA Champions League 6-0 victory against Lens at Emirates Stadium in London on 29 November 2023. (Photo: Mike Hewitt / Getty Images)

It would have been easy for Arsenal to become trapped in a cycle of self-pity after narrowly missing out on the Premier League title last season. But the Gunners are firing on all cylinders.

In sport – one of the most significant ethoses is the art of perseverance. No matter how many times you are knocked down, rise again. This is one of numerous reasons people resonate with sport. In life too, perseverance is crucial to have a chance of success.

English Premier League club Arsenal currently embodies perseverance. Following last season’s heartbreak – where the Gunners were genuinely dreaming of a first league title in two decades – it would have been easy for the team to enter into a depression. To wallow in self-pity as the world moves along without a care.

arsenal ben white

Ben White of Arsenal in action during the UEFA Champions League match against Lens at Emirates Stadium in London on 29 November 2023. (Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

After all, Mikel Arteta’s men stumbled and let slip the opportunity to claim the bragging rights of being English champions for the first time since they last did it in 2004, thanks to Arsene Wenger and his Invincibles squad.

The team could have finished above Manchester City if not for a series of unfortunate draws at the beginning of April 2o23, with the finish line for the marathon in sight. The Gunners dropped six crucial points in three consecutive draws during that period.

It was uncharacteristic for a team that had been largely consistent from the beginning of the season. Save for the odd blip here and there, Arsenal were imperious. They won a club record 50 points from their opening 19 league matches, losing just once and drawing twice.

However, when it mattered the most, the team lost its footing. And City comfortably eased past them to win a third Premier League title on the trot, and the fifth in six seasons.

Among the factors identified by observers in the 2022/2023 season autopsy was the inexperience of the team. Arteta’s exciting group of youngsters averaged 24 years old, tied with Southampton. The latter was one of the three teams to suffer relegation, finishing rock bottom.

It was said then that the Gunners had no squad depth to rotate their key players and hand them a rest. Though to be fair to them, not many teams can compete with Pep Guardiola’s Citizens when it comes to the quality and depth of their squad.

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Bukayo Saka of Arsenal in action with Takehiro Tomiyasu in support during the UEFA Champions League match against Lens at Emirates Stadium in London on 29 November 2023. (Photo: Mike Hewitt / Getty Images)

“This will bother me for the rest of my life. We were very close, I almost managed to achieve my dream. It will be painful for the rest of my life. But we have to try again next season,” Arsenal’s Norwegian skipper Martin Ødegaard told Viaplay following their failure to win the title.

Reset and regenerate

Despite that setback, Arteta and his cubs are back to their roaring best in the 2023/2024 season. They are perched at the summit of the league table though they have Liverpool and City closely chasing them in the early stages of the season.

Tottenham Hotspur looked to be genuine contenders as well. However, three defeats on the trot have seen the London side fall behind the leading trio.

Undoubtedly, it is Guardiola and his men who are once again favourites to conquer England again. Liverpool had an indifferent season in 2022/2023. It seems Jürgen Klopp’s charges have cast aside those blues and are in red-hot form once more.

But how will last season’s heartache aid Arteta’s Arsenal? Judging from their exciting performances this season, with nine wins, three draws and a solitary loss to date, it seems they took that negative energy and used it as fuel to rise and try again. To persevere. 

There were also concerns about how the team would handle a return to the Uefa Champions League while trying to build on the momentum from last season. Would the young team be able to juggle the demands of both competitions, especially as the Londoners were making a return to the Champions League after a six-year absence?

That question has been answered emphatically this season. So far at least. As well as jostling with City and Liverpool for top spot, the Gunners are firing on all cylinders in Europe’s elite club competition.

They top Group B, which comprises Sevilla, Dutch side PSV Eindhoven and French outfit Lens. Arsenal have already qualified for the knockouts and are also guaranteed to finish at the summit with one game to play.

Stronger together

What’s the secret to this bounce-backability the Londoners have demonstrated? According to Arteta, it is because his team has a “clear identity. There is union and we are full of energy. That’s the biggest thing. From top to bottom, they all push in the same direction.”  

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta looks on during the UEFA Champions League match against Lens at Emirates Stadium in London on 29 November 2023. (Photo: Mike Hewitt / Getty Images)

As a statement of how cohesive the team really is, they sealed their qualification for the next round in the Champions League with an emphatic 6-0 win against Lens.

Arteta said it’s important for their growth and self-belief as a unit to secure such wins when the opportunity presents itself. These are memories that they can tap into and use to dig deep when the going gets tough.

“That’s a really positive factor. Those players need to have those experiences and believe that we can do it against big opponents,” said the former Arsenal midfielder-turned-manager.

These experiences, both good and bad, will serve Arsenal and Arteta well as they seek to reel in big fish in terms of silverware. The team certainly seems better equipped to achieve that this season.

The squad is not the youngest in the Premier League anymore, with that honour belonging to Burnley. They know what it feels like to lose from a winning position. So, they will guard against complacency.

The Gunners play some exciting and silky-smooth soccer. But last season’s experience has also taught them that an ugly win is still a win.

Just how far this knowledge will carry them is an equation that will be solved over time. DM


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