As an Arsenal fan, I have grown accustomed to looking up at the top dogs in the EPL battle it out for the title. With the recent dominance of teams like Liverpool and Manchester City, Arsenal has not truly been in title contention in many years. Even in their 2nd place finish to Leicester in the 2015-16 season, Arsenal never had a realistic shot to win it all. After finishing the season on a 10-game unbeaten run, Arsenal still finished 10 points behind the champions.
However, what I have not grown accustomed to, is sitting at 9th place in the table through 27 games with only 8 wins coming into the weekend. Arsenal has not finished below 6th place in the Premier League since the 1994-95 season in which they finished 12th.
It has been a tumultuous season with the team’s poor performance leading to the firing of Unai Emery. Under the new leadership of Mikel Arteta, fans were given a spark of hope, going on a 7-game unbeaten stretch in the Premier League that continued this past weekend with a 3-2 victory over Everton.
Then Thursday happened.
Arsenal took a 1-0 lead into the second leg of their Europa League Round of 16 matchup with Olympiakos. I was feeling good. The match was in London and Arsenal was playing some of their best soccer of the season. When Olympiakos opened the scoring in the 53rd minute, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about how inconsistent we had played all season. The confidence I had at the beginning of the game had vanished. It was a tense end to the game with neither team scoring the deciding goal. At 1-1 on aggregate, the game went to extra time where Aubameyang scored the first goal in the 113th minute to put Arsenal ahead 2-1 on aggregate. It was looking good. With only 7 minutes left in extra time, I let out my breath and felt confident that we would be able to see out the victory. I should have known that as an Arsenal fan, nothing comes that easy. In the 118th minute, just 2 minutes before the end of extra time, Olympiakos scored again. With the away goal tiebreaker, Olympiakos advanced, knocking Arsenal out of the Europa League in the round of 16.
When I set out to write this post, Liverpool was in the middle of a historic 44-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, having not lost a game in the 2019-20 EPL season. The only team to finish a season without a loss was the great Arsenal team of 2003-04, known as the “Invincibles.” They finished the year with an impressive 26-12-0 record. This unprecedented feat has been Arsenal’s claim to fame during their championship drought. The threat of Liverpool matching Arsenal’s record in a year where Arsenal had been performing uncharacteristically poorly served to add insult to injury.
Thankfully, Liverpool’s incredible run came to an end this weekend with a 3-0 loss to Watford. Their unbeaten run came up just 5-games short of Arsenal’s record. The Invincibles will remain the only team in the EPL to go undefeated for at least one more year. Don’t get me wrong, I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Liverpool was able to accomplish, but it’s nice knowing that the Arsenal team of 2003-04 still holds a unique place in history. It was a desperately needed win for a club and a fanbase that has only seen 8 of them thus far this season.