Monday morning could have been the most bitter and unbearable ‘morning after’ in a long time for Arsenal fans had Newcastle found a way to equalise at St James’ Park. Actually it would have seemed quite appropriate for Arsenal to hit that self-destruct button in the manner in which they had done so many times over the years. In contrast, celebrations were befitting, not just because it’s the Champions League – Arsenal supporters understand there is a long way to go before the team can genuinely challenge the best in Europe for that trophy. But the importance of finishing fourth this season is that it holds significance over the long term and short term for Arsenal. This summer should be seen as the marker for change.
I get it, from the outside it’s very easy to mock Arsenal for the way they celebrated. But who wouldn’t have done the same? Tottenham certainly. Everton. Manchester City celebrated their first trip into the Champions League because they knew it would be an important step. Moreover, for Arsenal it just went to showcase how big this rivalry with Tottenham has become in recent seasons.
That’s a part of the problem. Tottenham have put together their best points total in a Premier League season and have fallen just one point behind Arsenal; credit to them for making up the ground. But then what about Arsenal? Yes, the club have regressed. It would have been easy to comment on Tottenham’s best points total still being too short to overcome Arsenal, but this is a place and a situation Arsenal fans surely don’t want to be in again. For the second season a row, the call was far too close.
Forget for a moment what the immediate future may bring off the back of another top four finish, the fact of the matter is that Arsenal and Spurs were not competing for a title; Arsenal have been reduced to fighting for a qualifying position in the Champions League. To reiterate, Arsenal don’t want to be in that position again.
It will act as a wakeup call for Arsenal. The experience of Champions League football is engrained in this club, so too is the mentality of winning trophies; although it would be fair to say that aspect has been a little lost on the club’s hierarchy in recent years. The club need to move on from selling their best players every summer. Sure, Tottenham do the same, but it has played a vital role in closing the gap between both clubs.
For Arsenal, the winning mentality over their local rivals has also been lost, or at least chipped away from what it used to be. The 4-4 draw at the Emirates in 2008 can arguably be seen as the turning point. From then on, Tottenham have beaten Arsenal at the Emirates, have regularly taken all three points at White Hart Lane and even offered a scare when a man light during this past season’s 5-2 result. It draws necessary and valid comparisons with the rivalry between Atletico and Real Madrid. It’s a set a fixtures that used to be fairly routine for the traditionally bigger club. For the Premier League rivals, Arsenal have allowed themselves to fall down from the heights of title challengers to those in the race for the top four. It doesn’t matter that Spurs have won a trophy, been to two finals, finished in the top four (twice, technically), and risen up the standings in the market in order to compete for some of the best names available. Likewise in Spain, it shouldn’t matter that since 2010 Atletico have won more trophies than Real. The difference here is that Real will be mindful of keeping their distance. There may be a one-off title race involving both sides from Madrid, but it won’t last.
Arsenal have come out on top on yet another occasion in which they opted to play with fire. Tottenham won’t sit back this summer because they can’t really afford to. Arsenal, however, have a history on being quite content with what they have – and that is what has brought about a new dimension to this rivalry. It’s about being a football club first. There might be criticisms for the way in which Tottenham conduct their business in the market, but you still look to them as a club who want to progress for football reasons and not those which are deemed secondary.
Maybe you can put together a valid argument that Arsenal had to endure these past few seasons because of the move to the Emirates. The important factor here, and the reason why Arsenal celebrated in such a manner is that many view this as the end of a difficult cycle.
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