St Totteringham's Day Joy Can't Mask Season of Missed Opportunity for Arsenal

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2016

Arsenal's tumultuous season ended on a high, as they recorded a 4-0 victory over Aston Villa that, combined with Tottenham Hotspur's 5-1 humbling at Newcastle United, meant the Gunners leapfrogged their rivals into second place.

The Arsenal fans were able to celebrate St Totteringham's Day, the annual confirmation they will finish above their neighbours. It made for a joyous occasion—but one that only papers over the cracks of a disappointing campaign.

In the last couple of months, the Emirates Stadium has been enveloped by gloom. The disintegration of Arsenal's title challenge led to huge dissatisfaction with manager Arsene Wenger, and protests and jeers became de rigueur.

On Sunday, however, Arsenal's ground was a scene of ecstasy and amusement at the fact Tottenham somehow conspired to finish beneath them. There is nothing like a common enemy to unite people.

Watching the way Arsenal dispatched Villa, it was almost possible to believe this year hadn't been so bad. This, after all, was Arsenal's highest league finish in 11 seasons.

Olivier Giroud's hat-trick meant he matched his best Premier League tally of 16, with an impressive total of 24 across all competitions. Quite how he managed to reach that figure despite tailing off so dramatically in the second half of the season is anybody's guess.

He was helped in that regard by the brilliance of Mesut Ozil. Squawka recorded the German as having crafted a ludicrous 144 goalscoring chances for his team-mates in the Premier League alone. His assist for Giroud's second was his 19th of the season—just one shy of Thierry Henry's league record.

At the other end of the pitch, Petr Cech's clean sheet meant he will at least share the coveted Golden Glove. With all these positive signs, it's tempting to re-evaluate the success of the campaign.

In his post-match press conference, Wenger summed up the curious nature of the day:

We are second in the league and we want to be first. But if you are not first, you might as well be 10th or 12th. You might as well say that first is good and the rest is rubbish. In sport, when you work in a football club you know that every win you have to fight and prepare more. We want to win more. We want to be first. But as well, we have made over 70 points in the Premier League and it is not easy.

Second is at once an improvement on Arsenal's showing last year and still not good enough.

The fact only Leicester City separate this Arsenal side from top spot shows the lack of credible challengers for this season's title. Given the absence of competition, the Gunners ought to have snatched the league for themselves.

Ultimately, not enough of Ozil's passes were converted to assists. Twenty-four goals is a reasonable total for Giroud, but he ought to have scored more. Arsenal spent much of Sunday lauding the contributions of Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky, but had they been ruthlessly replaced last summer, then perhaps this season’s injury problems would not have bitten so hard.

Arsenal and Wenger will be grateful the final day granted them some respite at the end of a difficult period. With the manager set to stay for at least one more year, the season's cathartic climax will be vital in easing tensions around the club.

However, when the jubilation dies down, Arsenal will reflect on a season characterised by underachievement. Next year must be about more than simply finishing above Spurs.

 

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.

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