Through tears, Arsenal still Premier League’s best hope of toppling Manchester City Goliath

Steven Chicken
A tearful Mikel Arteta applauds Arsenal fans
Mikel Arteta's Arsenal won on the final day but Manchester City got the job done

The fact that Arsenal took things to the final day this season, just as Liverpool had done previously, is an achievement in itself. That kind of tells you everything about the shape of the Premier League title race not just this campaign, but for the past few years and probably into the foreseeable future.

We’re basically Germany now, aren’t we? And Manchester City are our Bayern Munich: the constant, almost immovable object that everyone else must either be unbelievably good to topple, or else hope for an uncharacteristic wobble from.

Arsenal remain best placed to end Manchester City era of dominance

Alongside Liverpool, Mikel Arteta’s side did look like they might get the benefit of the latter scenario this season. City were out of sorts between the end of September and the middle of December, leaving just enough of a crack in their form for a legitimate title race to open up.

Seeing Liverpool fall away as quickly and dramatically as they did last month underscores how well Arsenal did to keep things interesting in theory even if not really in practice, given the sheer dominant ease with which Manchester City have closed out the season since drawing with both would-be rivals in March. There was no season-ruining extended slip from Arsenal; City were simply flawless.

But if anybody is going to be the Premier League’s Bayer Leverkusen – unstoppable even by the resident titan – then Arsenal still remain the best bet, even if they fell just short on this occasion.

Arteta’s impact on Arsenal was not immediate, but has instead been gradual, year on year improvement. In the current climate, bastardising Brian Clough by finishing second but finishing second better – as they now have – represents another slight step forward for a club that looks increasingly proficient and well-drilled in what Pep Guardiola’s former assistant sees as the best way to topple the master.

More on Arsenal from Football365
👉 Arsenal miss out on Premier League prize money record
👉 Arsenal ‘most dangerous rival’ to Milan in striker race
👉 Merse: Arsenal signing would take Gunners to ‘another level’

Arsenal have had one of the youngest sides in the Premier League this season, with the vast majority of their squad aged 27 or younger. Their very best players will reach or remain at their respective peaks over the next few years. City are not exactly a creaking team of old men themselves, but the point is they do not hold an advantage in this area.

The recruitment has also been impressively suitable at Arsenal, for the most part, with each problem area addressed gradually over time. Where others have spent big on hodge-podge squads, Arsenal have largely opened their wallets wisely and strategically; even City have struggled in that regard.

All season we have heard that Arsenal are in need of a centre-forward to make up the difference between the two clubs, but the lie is given to that somewhat by Arsenal having scored 88 goals last season and 91 this – the highest they have managed since 1953.

Just because City get a lot of goals through Erling Haaland doesn’t mean copying them is going to make the difference. Ask Tottenham how much a difference Harry Kane made to their title aspirations (none), or Liverpool how prolific Roberto Firmino was when they won the title in 2019/20 (he scored nine league goals that season).

For years in the latter half of Arsene Wenger’s reign, Arsenal – the club, even if not the fans – seemed to begrudgingly accept that finishing in the top four was an achievement in itself. Unai Emery’s ill-fated tenure suggested there may have been something in that.

But under Arteta, the bar has been raised back up again. This is now a club that expects to challenge for the league title. As Arteta himself put it when addressing the crowd after the game: “Don’t be satisfied, because we want much more than that, and we’re going to get it.”

Last year’s sharp rise to runners-up cast them as an unsuccessful version of David in the face of Goliath. Over the past year, David has hit the weights and begun to build up the musculature required to go toe to toe with the giant.

The final league table tells us there is still more for them to do, and history tells us that City will be as determined as ever to hold onto the trophy for another year. But back-to-back silver medals tells us that Arsenal, too, are capable of keeping that desire burning over a summer break and into the new season.

Keep that trajectory going, and next year, those roles may very well be reversed.

More: Arsenal | Mikel Arteta | Barca interest in Arteta