52 months ago, I thought Arsenal were going to win the league.
The foundations of my house shook vigorously after Danny Welbeck had just scored the most dramatic of dramatic winners against Leicester. From that moment, fans across the country believed. They felt alive.
One glanced header in the 95th minute and it looked like the title was there for the taking. Hearts raced at a million miles an hour, as that goal put the Gunners within two points of the top. That was supposed to be it. That was the moment in 2016 when it looked like the title would return to north London with Arsenal surging towards glory.
It…didn’t work out like that.
But nevertheless, from being within touching difference to the league crown to now languishing in tenth, dejected and with any remaining hope now a shipwreck at the bottom of the ocean. It’s all so, so bleak.
Is this the worst Premier League season in the club’s history? Has it actually ever been worse than this? Maybe, maybe not. That’d be giving too much away, you see…
Final Position: 5th
After their lowest Premier League finish (to date) in the previous season, Bruce Rioch was appointed as Arsenal manager with a fairly clear task.
A bottom-half finish had to be improved on, and to his credit, he did that. Yet, truth be told, they couldn’t have got much worse.
Too many matches were drawn in the 1995/96 season, and midway through the campaign the Gunners embarked on a barren spell of just two wins in 11 matches.
That ultimately saw the club finish fifth in the table, a distinct improvement from the prior campaign, but an unbalanced squad that didn’t share enough goals around meant they would finish behind Aston Villa in fourth on goals scored.
It was Dennis Bergkamp’s first season at the club, however, and signs of improvement were on the horizon.
Final Position: 5th
Arsene Wenger’s first season in which they failed to finish in the top four ranks frightfully low on this list. Not because it wasn’t a bad season, just that things have gotten far worse since.
Trying to find excuses for why this is only sixth isn’t worth noting, no matter how much damage this finish would have on the club’s current predicament.
One season out of the Champions League is severely detrimental to a club of Arsenal’s size, but it’s just about manageable if a return to the top four is imminent.
The 2016/17 season started well, with just one defeat in the opening 15 matches making it seem as if the title was a genuine possibility. That all fizzled out rapidly with a dreadful run in the second half of the season, and that eventual one-point deficit on Liverpool was a golf ball-sized pill to swallow.
Did win the FA Cup, but this is about the Premier League.
Final Position: 5th
Again, whether you judge the season on what implications their finish would have or simply base it on the points tally impacts where it should lie in this list.
Arsenal missed out on the top four again after having the Champions League firmly within their grasps. It was gut-wrenching to see the club throw away such a promising position with just one win in their final five matches, including some diabolical home matches with Crystal Palace and Brighton.
Victory against a weak Seagulls outfit at the Emirates would have clinched a Champions League spot. Instead, under the disorganised leadership of Unai Emery, they looked devoid of ideas, disinterested and disheartened.
Their 70-point haul saw Tottenham clinch fourth by a narrow margin, thus compounding the misery surrounding the club to new, dark depths.
We’ll brush over Baku…
Final Position: 6th
Losing twice and drawing twice at home all season would, in normal circumstances, put a club in good stead to record a high finish in the league. But when you add 11 away defeats and just four wins on the road, it spells danger.
Arsenal were atrocious on their travels in what was Wenger’s final season at the helm, and not particularly great elsewhere. It was a campaign tinged with sadness, but the Frenchman’s departure couldn’t mask over what was a dire 38-game stretch where Arsenal were beginning to lose any credibility they may have once had.
A measly 63 points was all they could muster, while the 51 goals they conceded was an abysmal return for a club chasing a Champions League spot.
Ending the season in sixth and far adrift of Liverpool in fourth felt like a sign of things to come, with Europa League football beckoning again and huge uncertainty over what lay in store for the club.
Final Position: 10th
Perhaps some of the younger Arsenal fans will feel the current predicament is a previously unseen low in the club’s fortunes, but that hasn’t been the case. Arsenal weren’t always good.
The inaugural Premier League season was one to forget for George Graham’s side, who tailed off drastically after a decent start to the season in which they sat in top spot after 15 matches.
However, the Gunners won only six of the remaining 27 matches, slipping down the table into a miserly tenth spot, scoring just 40 goals in their 42 league games.
Ian Wright was the top scorer on 15 goals, but the lack of firepower throughout the side meant he was unable to push the side up the table all on his own.
Arsenal did secure an FA Cup and League Cup double that term, but vast improvements were needed as they suffered their lowest league finish in ten years.
Final Position: 12th
The aforementioned improvements that were needed for the 1993/94 season were forthcoming as Arsenal finished fourth, but then it all came crashing down the year after in a woeful campaign where they even flirted with relegation.
Finishing just six points above the drop, it didn’t matter how many goals Wright scored, Arsenal were atrocious throughout.
Graham got the sack after 29 games, but caretaker manager Stewart Houston couldn’t turn their fortunes around, winning just four of his 12 matches at the helm which culminated in a 12th place finish.
Off-field issues were prevalent too with Paul Merson being unavailable for three months to help battle his addiction, while the nature of Graham’s sacking – taking over £400k in illegal payments from agents – just added to the general mood the club found itself in.
It was one of those seasons where you think as a supporter ‘it can’t get any worse’, but fast forward 25 years, and it has.
Final Position: 10th (current)
Using Mikel Arteta’s face as the cover imagine for this season is unfair. He’s inherited a club in complete disarray and appears powerless to fix it. It’s just that his facial expression says it all.
Considering the season isn’t even over yet but still it ranks as the worst in the club’s Premier League history tells the story. You can look at shocking results and abysmal performances, sure, but when combined with all the other harmful ongoings, it appears that the club is now beyond repair.
Not only is the squad bang average, but there are countless contractual disputes with players that appear nowhere near solving. Not to mention financial ruin from some appalling transfer business, a catastrophically ran boardroom, players who either don’t want to be there or are refusing to leave and a disconnect between the supporters and club which is at an all-time low.
‘Be excited’ was the pre-season rallying call from Josh Kroenke. Some things age terribly.
With their star players set to leave without any injection of finance to follow, not even Europa League football appearing achievable, and the rest of the league improving, it’s never looked so bleak.
The task at hand for Arteta appears unwinnable. He showed incredible bravery to take the job on in the first place, but one man can’t fix a list of problems more extensive than the rest of the clubs in the league combined.
History confirms it’s been done before, but it’s tough to envisage where it gets better from here, if indeed it ever will.
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