The last of the silverware, Arsenal's 2005 FA Cup
That's what every team plays for during each season, correct? Well, not entirely.
Success is categorized differently for teams as it is obvious that there are varying levels of quality in any league of any sport. Swansea City FC, Evian Thonon Gaillard FC, Hertha BSC and Granada CF are likely hoping to simply remain in their respective top flights after promotion last season; doing so would constitute a major success for all of them.
At the other end of the spectrum, for clubs like FC Barcelona, Manchester United, FC Internazionale Milano and Olympiakos FC, hoisting their respective league trophies is considered the norm, not the exception, and anything less is considered at least a partial failure; hoisting other silverware such as the Champions League cup or the various domestic cups often acts as a temporary reprieve.
Arsenal once stood among the latter; the successes of the last two decades turned the team into a major power where success was expected at all levels.
Without a piece of meaningful silverware to grace the cabinet since the 2005 FA Cup, the Gunners have constantly been in the discussion for various English honors and have even made a run to the Champions League final.
Close, but as the saying goes, "close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades." Without that meaningful victory to grace their recent history, do the club and its fans need to adjust their expectations, especially in the wake of a tumultuous summer transfer window?
What do we now constitute as success for Arsenal?
Is Arsene Wenger's definition of success a reasonable one?
Later that season, following the collapses that saw Arsenal out of every piece of silverware that it had been in contention for, Arsene Wenger provided this:
"Liverpool, Tottenham and all these clubs who are out of the top four would like to be in there.
"We have not won a trophy, but have been consistently in the top four. Our target is to qualify for the [Group Stage] then we will have been 15 or 16 years on the trot in the Champions League [proper]" - Arsenal.com
Group stage qualification is, by no means, a mere feat. It is, in fact, crucial to the success of many teams with the revenue that is guaranteed to help bolster squads or erase operating debt for future purchases. That Arsenal has consistently been in the top four of the EPL has enabled them to accelerate paying off the debt incurred by the construction of the Emirates, but should that be enough?
Before this summer, I would have said "no," but I am no longer sure of that.
I will always be an Arsenal supporter, come what may. I am a Buffalo Bills and New York Knicks fan, so I am intimately familiar with teams that have gotten so close but failed to realize their potential.
I am also no fair-weather friend. That being said, I also think that I can face reality when it comes to my team. For the first time in a very long while, I do not expect the Gunners to honestly challenge for the EPL title.
I also am not going the way of so many others by saying that the team is crap and that we're going to be relegated; anyone who swallows that is, I think, out of their mind.
So by saying that, what do I then quantify as success for Arsenal?
1. At a very minimum, Arsenal needs to challenge Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the table.
This is reasonable, as the team comes together and injuries are resolved. The team is deeper than it was last year, and the defense is better (in my opinion).
We have a definite No. 1 keeper who has shown his quality, and ample cover at center-back. Our current weakness lies within our midfield, but with the return of suspended players and Jack Wilshere in the coming months, we are far better off than we could be.
Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun have the ability to make this a very deep position for us, despite the loss of Cesc Febregas and Samir Nasri.
I don't think that it will be easy, and I think that the Gunners are going to have to fight tooth and nail for one of those two spots, but it IS possible.
The quality is there, as it has been in many other years, but once again, is the mindset? The coming stretch will show us whether Arsenal can handle the lesser teams in the league and give us a much more accurate barometer of what to expect this season; we must remember that we are only one game into the season with the current Arsenal side.
2. Win a cup.
I think that a reprieve would be granted if we could manage to snag a piece of silverware. Many laugh at the League Cup, as the top sides routinely hold many members of their Starting XI out of the lineups, but it is STILL something and can help provide both momentum and confidence to a side.
By that same token, losing the cup or the games prior to the final can also send a team into a downward spiral, much like Arsenal losing to Birmingham City last year in the Carling Cup final.
3. Hold on to our star players.
I believe that many of the current Gunners are loyal to the club, and that is something that we can count as a blessing. I also thought that Cesc was loyal to the club. This isn't a Fab-bash, although many here now know how I feel about his exit, but the writing was always on the wall with him.
Arsenal now has a number of players at its core who are Arsenal through and through and have dreamt of playing for the team. Hopefully that loyalty remains and is rewarded (appropriately) with contracts to keep these Gunners playing at the Emirates.
I know that this doesn't seem so far from what we consider to be our typical goals for each season, but I don't see us winning the Champions League, nor do I think that we can realistically challenge for the top spot in the EPL.
Does that mean we don't fight to get to No. 1? No, of course not. But if we don't end the season on top, I'm not going to lose all that much sleep.
I will only be disappointed if we fail to meet a top-four goal, do not mount a challenge for any of the cups and start bleeding our stars come season's end.