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Arsenal's Season - Disastrous or Merely Disappointing?

28/04/2016 17:14

​If there's one word that largely sums up Arsenal's season, it's 'limp'. A second-string side getting bounced out of the Capital One Cup by a Championship side. Limp. Flopping out of the FA Cup against Watford at the quarter-final stage. Limp.

A Champions League campaign which saw them kneel down at Barcelona's feet and ask very nicely if, maybe, they could be allowed to score a goal once the tie was absolutely finished as a contest.

Most of all, that Premier League title 'challenge'. The one which started with defeat to West Ham, picked up just enough as Christmas approached to install them as favourites, then melted away like the winter frosts as spring approached.

It was limp. It was week-old lettuce, all water and disappointment and no true substance. It's tempting to say that consecutive defeats against Manchester United and Swansea as February became March broke the back of the Gunners' title challenge, but how can you break a back with no spine?

Wenger and his men emerge from this campaign holding the tatters of a failed title challenge and without so much as a cup semi-final to soften the blow - but the season still hasn't been a disaster. Cripplingly disappointing, yes. But no disaster.

A draw against Manchester City in the season's penultimate game could well be enough to secure third place in the league, with Manuel Pellegrini's side in danger of dropping points in other tricky games as they keep one eye on their Champions League semi-final. Manchester United sit further back, and have an even tougher schedule. To proclaim the death of Arsene Wenger's reign in a season which still ends with Champions League football seems just a touch over dramatic.

A glance around at their traditional peers in the top four should give a hint of what can go wrong in a truly disastrous season. Chelsea have only just clawed their way back into the top half - a season without a sniff of European football beckons. Manchester United look set to miss out on the top four for the second time in three years. Disaster is strewn around the top half of the league, but Arsenal have flown a steadier course than almost any of their rivals.

There's no getting around the fact that - with the rest of the 'big five' stumbling - Arsenal would have expected to be closer to the summit than they are. But the 12-point gap to Leicester, with only three games to play, is more of a testament to how well the Foxes have played than it is a damning reflection on Arsenal.

Arsenal haven't been terrible. They've been mediocre. Faintly average. A team lacking something, who lost momentum at the worst possible time. In short - they were Arsenal. And that might be the most damning assessment of all.

The club didn't move to the Emirates to be an average club. Fans don't pay the country's highest prices week in, week out to see an average team. Champions League qualification is no mean feat, and Wenger deserves credit for delivering it so consistently, but there comes a time when fans want a side to push on. That time has come.

The thing is though, that as long as Wenger keeps the club steady, there's no need to rush the transition. This isn't like the case of Moyes at United, or Rodgers at Liverpool - Wenger will leave the same base of Champions League football and money in the bank whether he leaves now or in two or three years time.

It's not just that there's no 'worthy' successor to Wenger and the moment, it's that there's more or less no successor knocking around at all. Champions League-winning managers don't grow on trees, it turns out. Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola are about to start new jobs, Jose Mourinho would sooner take a job in League Two than be offered the post at the Emirates, Luis Enrique is happy at Barcelona and...well, that's about it.

Who else? Rafael Benitez, battling the drop with Newcastle? Frank Rijkaard, who failed at both Galatasaray and Saudi Arabia and hasn't taken charge of a team in three years? Roberto Di Matteo, who only has a failure at Schalke to his name since leaving Chelsea in 2012?

Unless there is a seismic change at the Emirates in the summer - and that looks unlikely as things stand - then Arsenal fans should probably gear up for another season or two of being good, but not quite good enough. Hardly an inspiring message, but maybe that's fitting. Arsenal haven't exactly been an inspiring team of late.

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