Arsenal conjured up a scintillating display to beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final and match winner Aaron Ramsey immediately declared it had been a successful season for the Gunners. Cue severe derision on social media as fans and rivals alike reminded the Welshman that Arsenal had posted their worst league finish in more than two decades. They lost nine league games, including embarrassing defeats at the hands of Watford and Crystal Palace, and finished 11 points behind Tottenham. Couple that with the wretched 10-2 aggregate defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich, and it was indeed a very poor season for Arsenal overall, defined by uncertainty over Arsene Wenger’s future, fan protests and haphazard defending. An FA Cup win cannot paper over those cracks. But it could be a lot worse, as a trip down memory lane shows. Remind yourselves of these seasons and be thankful for all you have as Arsenal fans in the present day.
It is testament to Arsene Wenger’s supreme managerial abilities that, until this year, there were Arsenal fans old enough to drink and get married that had never known what it was like to finish below Tottenham. The last time the Gunners finished below their north London rivals was back in the mid-1990s, and it was a wretched season indeed. Long-serving manager George Graham was sacked following the bungs scandal. Assistant Stuart Houston took up the reins and presided over a run of six defeats in seven games, and Arsenal were staring relegation in the face. Paul Merson spent three months on the sidelines combating drug and gambling addictions. The Gunners were knocked out of the cup by Millwall in the third round. The midfield featured the likes of Eddie McGoldrick, John Jensen and Steve Morrow. Eventually Arsenal rallied and finished 12th, but that left them below relative minnows like QPR and Wimbledon. Spurs had Jurgen Klinsmann banging in 30 goals and finished five places ahead. A chance of redemption came when Arsenal reached a second successive European Cup Winners’ Cup final, but with the game poised at 1-1 and heading to extra-time, Real Zaragoza’s Nayim – a former Tottenham player – lobbed David Seaman from the halfway line in the final minute. That makes 2016/17 seem like a walk in the park.
Arsenal fans may have been denied the pleasure of celebrating St Totteringham’s Day this season, and have born the brunt of more jokes than Donald Trump. But at least Tottenham did not actually win the title, as they finished seven points behind Chelsea. Back in 1960-61, Arsenal won just four of their final 17 games to finish 11th, while Tottenham won the league at a canter, and then completed the double by winning the FA Cup final. This season Spurs won nothing, again, while Arsenal won the first trophy inside their new stadium (Wembley, where they are playing until their new ground is built).
Fans may currently be upset about missing out on the financial windfall and pulling power that comes with Champions League qualification, as it could hurt the club’s chances of signing the stars that will reinvigorate the squad this summer. But at least they are not facing up to the financial hardship of relegation. This was the case back in 1913, as a 1-0 defeat against Derby sent Woolwich Arsenal crashing down to the second tier. Arsenal finished bottom of the table, with one of the worst records ever, while Spurs finished 17th and stayed up.
Arsenal won the double under Bertie Mee in 1970-71, but then he ruled over a torrid five years in charge and could not galvanise the side. It turned into an eight-year trophyless period for the club. In 1975-76, Mee decided enough was enough and threw in the towel, while Arsenal finished 17th, just above the relegation zone and well behind Spurs.
Arsenal fans may think they have it tough now, but it has been far worse. This is arguably not even the worst season under Wenger. In 2011-12, they lost Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the summer, lost 8-2 to Man Utd and sneaked into the top four, but the outlook was bleak. Now Arsenal don’t have to sell their best players and are far more financially secure. There were the titles thrown away, in 2008-09 when William Gallas lost the plot and started kicking the hoardings, and in 2010-11, when they also lost to Birmingham in the League Cup final. In 2012-13, the trophyless run extended to nine years and finishing fourth seemed little consolation. Now Arsenal have won three trophies in four seasons. A look at this site shows Arsenal are only sixth favourites to win the league next season, but there is plenty of cause for optimism as they will not be distracted by Champions League football and can really go for it. They finished the season with nine wins in 10 games and can bolster the squad in the summer due to their financial muscle. You would much rather be an Arsenal fan now than in 1913, 1976 or even 2012, so cheer up and look forward to next season and be thankful that John Jensen is not playing in the Arsenal midfield.
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer, covering a range of sports from across the world. He is an Arsenal fan and was in primary school when they finished below Tottenham in 1995, but remembers it well and shudders to think of classmates doing the “Klinsmann dive” to celebrate.