OPINION: Arsenal's slide puts them in danger of treading a similar path to Spurs

OPINION: Arsenal's slide puts them in danger of treading a similar path to Spurs
Arsenal players react during Friday's 3-3 draw with Southampton
Arsenal players react during Friday's 3-3 draw with Southampton
On Wednesday, Arsenal play fellow Premier League title aspirants Manchester City in what is all but a must-win game for the North London club if they are to break the almost 20-year wait since they last lifted the trophy.

Rewind a few weeks and Arsenal’s season was shaping up to not just be their best in years but one that could go down with legendary status.

Since losing to Manchester City in February, they went on a seven-match winning streak in the league - until their victory over Leeds on the first day of April.

However, three consecutive draws (with Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton) since that game has left them in real danger of missing out on the Premier League title as, in that same period, City haven’t dropped a point while Arsenal have let six slip through their fingers.

Add to that falling out of the Europa League knock-out stage at the hands of Sporting in March and it’s safe to say it hasn’t been the most fruitful of springs for Arsenal. Not yet, anyway.

Arsenal's recent results

The Gunners are not mathematically out of the race for the league title - far from it, in fact, as they are still top of the standings. However, they have surrendered what was a healthy lead over their main rivals and handed the baton of favourites over to Pep Guardiola’s men.

The situation is now this: Arsenal lead City by five points, having played two extra games. Assuming City continue their incredible recent form and win those two matches in hand, that puts them ahead of Arsenal by a solitary point in theory.

Thus, Wednesday’s match is a must-win for Mikel Arteta’s side if they are to keep their hopes of winning the title within their own power.

If they draw again or lose, they would require City to drop points - a scenario that is looking less and less likely with every scintillating performance by the Mancunians.

The Premier League's top five

From such a strong position to a rather precarious one - Arsenal’s recent slide could leave them empty-handed after what has been (and still will be) a great season on the pitch.

Their situation bears some resemblance - much to the chagrin of Gunners’ fans, I’m sure - to their great rivals Tottenham Hotspur’s almost glorious season of 2018/19.

Tottenham's nearly men of 2019

In 2019, under the guidance of the adored Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs made it to the Champions League final - where they eventually lost to Liverpool.

It was a brilliantly dramatic run to the final and the furthest a Tottenham side had gone in the prestigious competition.

For a club that seldom wins trophies - as many Arsenal fans love to point out - it was the stuff of dreams but, alas, they fell short at the final hurdle.

Looking back, it feels as though 2019 was the zenith for Spurs in recent years: an incredible high from which they needed to springboard to establish themselves as a truly elite European force.

Not winning that final was one thing but not launching off that pad to greater heights as a club was the lasting failure.

After that final, Spurs then slipped out of the top four in the league for two consecutive seasons and a string of managerial successors have struggled to revive the team to the level Pochettino had lifted them.

They have since failed to recapture that fleeting sense of magic and their fans have grown more and more disgruntled about how a lack of ambition in the transfer market has seen them seemingly fall behind a growing pack of clubs competing for the European berths.

Most recently, the weekend's calamitous 6-1 loss to Newcastle and the subsequent sacking of interim manager Cristian Stellini, have left Tottenham in arguably their bleakest state in years.

While Arsenal’s current season and Spurs’ 2018/19 season bear vast differences - we are considering different trophies, to begin with - there is a mirroring to be found in what the seasons could represent if Arsenal fail to win the league.

The pain of almost winning

There is a real sense in which a gut-wrenchingly near miss can deflate a team more than never being in the frame to win at all and it is here that the similarities between Spurs' 18/19 and Arsenal’s current season emerge in force.

Mikel Arteta reacts during the match with Southampton

If Arsenal do not win the league this season after being in such a strong position prior to this April slump, they run the risk of that disappointment derailing them and undermining any momentum they had built up earlier in the campaign when they were playing teams off the park and winning admirers all over the world with their free-flowing football. 

Of course, it’s not necessarily the case that Arsenal will fail to carry their best form into next season just as it’s not necessarily the case that they won’t win the league. However, the narrative of this season could well be a difficult pill to swallow, not just for the fans but for the playing and coaching staff who will have to dig deep to bounce back if they finish second to City.

It is with some irony that Tottenham emerge as an omen for this Arsenal side with the warning being: if you don’t win the trophy, you must find a way to maintain the momentum.

Strengthening is the obvious solution to this problem and squad depth has already proven to be an issue for Arsenal this year. Unlike City, who have an almost full XI of elite players in reserve, Arsenal’s quality diminishes much more sharply when key players succumb to injuries or suspensions.

The loss of Gabriel Jesus earlier in the year was well mitigated by Eddie Nketiah's admiral performances as his deputy and the January reinforcements of Leandro Trossard and Jorginho boosted the squad considerably as well. However, the recent absences of William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu have exposed a lack of depth in the back four specifically.

Arsenal will need to add further players in the summer if they are to come back stronger. What's more, new signings could help to counteract a sense of malaise taking over the dressing room if they don't lift the trophy.

Indeed, even if they do win the league, Arsenal will need to add depth just to keep up with the rampant spending of their competitors. These days, it seems not spending is as good as actively weakening a side in the Premier League.

Eddie Nketiah and Leandro Trossard have been useful options for Arsenal this year

So much of Arsenal’s identity is shaped by not being their loathed next-door neighbours but rarely has it seemed more crucial for Arsenal to not be Spurs than in the coming months.

If they lose out on the 2022/23 title and then fail to escape the spectre of that deep disappointment, Arsenal could be in real danger of treading a similar path to Tottenham post-2019 and slipping back down into that second bracket of clubs just below the truly elite few in England.

Where that slide could leave them ultimately is anyone's guess but just taking a cursory glance at Spurs' current situation should be warning enough.

That said, there is still plenty of football left to be played and they are still very much in this title race. Wednesday’s Top Match promises to be as telling as it will be thrilling.


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