Arsenal fans celebrated yesterday, and with good cause. Given the precarious position they found themselves in back in March—seven points adrift of Tottenham—qualifying for the Champions League is quite the achievement.
Arsenal are a team that seem to be perennially in transition, and 2012-13 was no different. Losing Robin van Persie destabilised the squad, and it took Arsene Wenger a long time to balance his team appropriately.
It all came together when Arsenal travelled away to Bayern Munich for the second leg of their Champions League tie. The Gunners had just suffered a painful defeat to rivals Tottenham, and Wenger responded by dropping the pair of Thomas Vermaelen and Wojciech Szczesny. Although Szczesny would later reclaim his place, this shake-up prompted an enormous improvement in Arsenal's defensive performances, providing a platform that would eventually allow them to snatch fourth place.
A fourth-placed finish is probably about par for this Arsenal side. Anything less would have been an enormous disappointment, but anything more would probably have to be classified as an over-achievement.
The trio of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United had bigger budgets and squads, and Arsenal were ultimately never in contention for the top prize.
Remaining in the Champions League gives Arsenal the chance to attract the players needed to make the step up and become title-challengers.
Crashing out to Blackburn was hugely disappointing. Arsenal made a point of selecting strong sides in the domestic cups and yet were unable to convert this ambition into silverware.
If losing to Blackburn was disappointing, going out to Bradford was plain humiliating. That humbling defeat was arguably the nadir of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal career, and the fact he has fought back from that to win the acclaim of supporters once again is testament to his talent and durability.
Arsenal managed a 3-3 aggregate draw with Bayern Munich in the knockout stages but were cruelly eliminated under the away goals rule. When you consider that the very same Bayern side went on to secure a 7-0 aggregate victory over Barcelona, Arsenal will consider their elimination from Europe no disgrace whatsoever.
Despite the elation of the final day, Arsenal fans will not look back on 2012-13 too fondly. Once again, they failed to win a trophy, and being knocked out by lower-league sides in both domestic cups will have particularly stung.
Finishing above Tottenham is enjoyable, but arguably it's more important to uncover why Arsenal finished 16 points behind champions Manchester United than why they finished a single point ahead of Spurs.
Qualifying for the Champions League has to be a stepping stone to bigger things next season. For the first summer in years, Arsenal are unlikely to face a transfer saga over one of their stars. The Gunners have stability and spending power and must capitalise on both in 2013-14.