If Arsenal win their next league game (1st April vs Newcastle), last season’s points tally will be matched with seven games to spare. You would imagine that the meetings between Unai Emery and the board last summer touched on some pragmatic goals – improve on last season’s finish, secure Champions League football.
When a club has had sustained success over many years and, like Arsenal, a relative decline, it’s normal for fans to enter into a period of reflection over what constitutes achievement. In truth, Arsenal fans were spoiled during the two decades of remarkable consistency under Arsène Wenger, with only Real Madrid surpassing the 19 consecutive Champions League campaigns engineered by the Frenchman.
The sense of reflection by fans will often meaning a changing of the parameters by which success is judged. It’s not just limited to Arsenal, of course: just look at how Manchester United fans have altered expectations, and the way in which they view Manchester City. The yardstick of achievement has been changed, as has what will make fans happy.
Tenacity and resolve required
Indeed, as United fans have been contented by adding some level of style to the porous steel overseen by Mourinho, Van Gaal and Moyes, Unai Emery has been charged with almost the opposite task at Arsenal – putting more resolve and grit into a team that has always been easy on the eye.
It’s not about defence, as Arsenal will probably finish the season with more goals conceded than the majority of the last 10 seasons. More so, it has been about giving the team a sense of tenaciousness, while at the same time offering a blueprint of what the Arsenal team will look like a few years from now.
So far, Emery has had moderate success in achieving those two goals, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. Fans, though, will want to see tangible evidence of progression, namely with a Champions League berth. The Gunners took a big stride towards that goal with victory against Manchester United on Sunday.
Arsenal now odds-on for Top 4 finish
Indeed, Arsenal are now odds-on in the online betting with 888sport for a Top 4 finish, given odds of 41/50 to seal Champions League football. For perspective, Spurs are slightly ahead at 8/13, with Chelsea and Manchester United at evens and 11/8 respectively.
It’s not just the two points that put Arsenal in the driving seat, but the remaining fixtures for Emery’s men. Eight games remaining sees no clashes with fellow ‘Big 6’ teams. To sweeten the deal even further for Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United must play each other in the run-in.
Indeed, if we are looking for something this season to recall Arsenal’s past glory, why not a Golden Boot winner for the first time in seven years? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is just one goal off Sergio Aguero in the top scorer charts, surely a smart bet at 6/1 given Arsenal’s generous fixture list?
In the end a 4th place finish would be a huge achievement for Emery, and something rightly celebrated by the fans. But it should come with one important caveat to distinguish itself from the successive ‘4th place trophies’ under Wenger – a season that finishes with fans feeling more confident about the next one.
Achieve that, possible even if finishing outside the top 4, and Emery’s first season may be reflected on with success, and perhaps be looked upon as a platform for a new period of achievement with the club.