Arsenal Champions

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
April 26th, 2004 • 5:31 am

Football is such that the win of a league title is almost always rather anticlimactic, especially for casual fans of the game such as myself. This was definitely the case for Arsenal on Sunday — although the anticlimactic effect was compounded by the unnecessary and unexpected controversy in stoppage time.

But that doesn’t take anything away from the remarkable overall performance of the team. The title is fully deserved, and even if the league season as a whole was somewhat disappointing due to the enormous gulf between the top 3 teams and the rest, there are many memories of fantastic performances by the Gunners both in the league and in other competitions.

We are certainly getting closer to the “reversal of power” that Arsène Wenger alluded to, somewhat prematurely maybe, at the end of the 2001/2002 season, after Arsenal won the league/cup double. The reversal won’t be complete, however, until the Gunners really assert their domination of English football by beating their direct opponents convincingly and consistently. Even though they clearly dominated Manchester United at home a few weeks ago, the game still ended in a 1-1 draw. The game at Old Trafford was a 0-0 draw. The first 2-1 league victory against Chelsea was greatly helped by a goal-keeping blunder. The second victory away at Stamford Bridge was more convincing, but then Chelsea managed to eliminate Arsenal in the Champions’ League quarter-finals.

Beyond the challenge of extending the unbeaten run even further, I think that the big challenge for Arsenal next season will be to beat Manchester United and Chelsea in a really convincing fashion. This year, they won the championship not thanks to their record against their direct opponents, but thanks to their excellent record against the rest of the league.

Another less mentioned achievement this season is Arsenal’s disciplinary record. The Old Trafford fracas in the fall was pretty much the last big controversy, and I don’t believe that there have been any red cards since then. (It’s probably helped that Martin Keown has spent most of the season on the bench!) I’ve never agreed that Arsenal were a “dirty team” and I think this season definitely shows that they are not nearly as dirty as their previous disciplinary record would suggest — and certainly that they don’t need to play dirty in order to win trophies. They might still occasionally lack some of the channelled “grit” that seems to be required in some cup games, but on the whole they’ve become very good at channelling their energies in the right direction.

Here’s hoping that this will continue next season, and that Arsenal will continue to demonstrate the superiority of elegance and style over the physical side of the game. That, to me, is the ultimate victory.

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