Warnings for Arsenal: five Premier League runners-up who f***ed up the following season

Ian Watson
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal should know the warning signs since it’s not that long ago that Arsene Wenger failed to build on a second-place finish. But Liverpool have caved in more than most.

Here are five sides who dropped from second-best to bang average…


Liverpool – 2021/22 runners-up; probably fifth in 2022/23
Arsenal need only look at Liverpool as an example of what happens if you don’t kick on from a runners-up finish…

The Reds, as part of a Quadruple pursuit, pushed City all the way to the final day of the season and were edged out by a point. After they finished with just the domestic cups to show for their efforts, it was clear that Jurgen Klopp’s squad needed reinforcements but they chose to keep their powder dry in the forlorn hope of waiting for Jude Bellingham. They blew their budget on Darwin Nunez and banked on that being enough. It was not.

Liverpool fell from City’s closest challenger, all the way through the top four, down to mid-table. Only a late-season resurgence has seen them rise to fifth and flirt with the possibility of retaining their Champions League place. More likely, a season in the Europa League awaits after a massive summer in which Klopp cannot afford to sit on his hands again.


Manchester United – 2020/21 runners-up; sixth in 2021/22
It is often forgotten that United finished as runners-up to City in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s final full season in charge. Admittedly, they were a distant second, 12 points off City, but five clear of Liverpool in third.

They tried to close the gap and the signings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane suggested they were well-equipped come the start of the season. Then they added Cristiano Ronaldo and they were ready to rumble. Sorry, crumble.

Sancho and Varane got sucked into the Old Trafford talent vacuum, while the feelgood factor around Ronaldo’s return last for two whole matches. They won one of their next eight Premier League games as it became clear that sustained success, or even competence, cannot be built on smiles, vibes and memories of 1999.

Solskjaer was gone and the remaining players listened to Ralf Rangnick for perhaps two matches. They were largely incapable but mainly unwilling to play the pressing game the German was hired to bring to Old Trafford. Instead, they went through the motions, probably fortunate to finish sixth before Erik ten Hag turned up to sift through the sh*te.


Arsenal – 2015/16 runners-up; fifth in 2016/17
Arsenal led the title race as 2016 arrived but Arsene Wenger saw his side’s form falter through the second half of a season which ended with Leicester as Premier League champions. The Gunners pipped Tottenham for second on the final day, and with few expecting Leicester to push on, there was an opportunity for Arsenal to exploit the following season.

They did not. The Gunners dabbled in the title race through the first half of the season but then their form plummeted. Two wins in eight saw them fall as low as sixth and for the last third of the campaign, they never set foot inside the top four.

Down the home straight, home fans at the Emirates squabbled over Wenger’s future, and in the last north London derby to be held at White Hart Lane, defeat saw Tottenham finish above Arsenal for the first time in over two decades. Even more damaging was the failure to secure a top-four place for the first time under Wenger. It’s taken them this long to get back.


Liverpool – 2013/14 runners-up; sixth in 2014/15
Perhaps the clearest parallels for Arsenal to worry about are those between their efforts this season and Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers in 2013/14. The Reds blew up towards the end of a somewhat unexpected title challenge, allowing Manchester City to claim the prize.

Luis Suarez was sold the following summer but the Reds reinvested in nine new arrivals – including Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno – to spark high expectations at Anfield. They were quickly quashed by their worst league start for half a century which saw them end 2014 in eighth place. Not only that, after working so hard to get back in the Champions League, they were dumped out at the group stage.

Liverpool rallied, going 12 unbeaten, then caved in again, winning just twice in their last eight games. They finished with a home defeat to Palace before waving off Steven Gerrard by getting tw*tted 6-0 at Stoke on the final day.

Ex-Liverpool duo Crouch and Benitez

Liverpool – runners-up in 2008/09; seventh in 2009/10
Rafa’s Reds pushed Fergie’s Manchester United hard, finishing four points off the defending Premier League and Champions League holders in 2008/09. They sought to go again by signing Alberto Aquilani to replace Xabi Alonso, which in hindsight was akin to Rafa trading in his Rolls Royce for a Fiat 500.

Two defeats in their opening three games and five in their first 11 didn’t help, with third place in September as good as it got. Injuries to Fernando Torres limited the centre-forward’s impact and in the cups, they fared even worse. The Reds were dumped out of the Champions League at the group stage; the FA Cup in the third round to Championship side Reading; and the League Cup in the fourth round to Arsenal.

The run-in was a shocker, with Liverpool winning only five of their last 13 matches to fall to their lowest finish in 11 years. The slump led to Benitez being mutually-consented, with Roy Hodgson appointed to replace him.