Arsenal's 5 Worst Seasons Under Arsene Wenger
The signs aren't good. The Gunners are set to finish below Tottenham Hotspur for the first time in Wenger's 21-year reign, and their chances of making the top four and thus qualifying for the Champions League are also slim. There is the possibility of redemption through the FA Cup, though—should Arsenal beat Chelsea in the final at Wembley Stadium in May, it would put a positive spin on an otherwise disappointing campaign.
But what have been the worst seasons of Wenger's two decades with Arsenal? In this piece, we run through the five most agonising campaigns of the Frenchman's time with the club, ranking them according to how painful they were to endure. Read on to begin the countdown.
Wenger's problems at Arsenal arguably began back in 2005/06. He was coming off an incredibly successful period: The Gunners claimed the double in 2001/02 before completing a remarkable unbeaten Premier League season in 2003/04. In 2004/05, Arsenal were not able to reclaim the league title but did beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final.
However, that cup win marked a changing of the guard. It was Patrick Vieira who scored the winning penalty kick in the final, but it would prove to be his last action as an Arsenal player. In the summer of 2005, he left for Juventus, and Arsenal took some time to recover.
The 2005/06 campaign was Arsenal's final one at Highbury, and it was comfortably the worst league season since Wenger had arrived at the club. Arsenal suffered 11 Premier League defeats, scoring just 68 league goals—19 fewer than they'd managed the previous year. Only the January arrivals of Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Adebayor—and a Thierry Henry hat-trick on the final day—prevented Arsenal from dropping out of the top four.
The season was almost saved by Arsenal's surprising success in the Champions League. Despite a raft of defensive injuries, Wenger managed to guide his side to the final in Paris. Had they held on to their 1-0 lead against Barcelona, this season would be remembered rather more fondly. However, Arsenal succumbed to an agonising defeat.
While we wait to discover whether this season will enter Wenger's personal hall of shame, it's safe to say that last term is a contender.
Arsenal didn't particularly disgrace themselves in the league—their final position of second was their highest since 2004/05. However, the reason that 2015/16 will hold painful memories for Arsenal fans is that it was their best chance to win the title in years.
With most of the top sides struggling to mount a credible challenge, Arsenal ought to have walked the Premier League. However, the Gunners paid the price for failing to sign a single outfield player the previous summer. Seven league defeats meant they were beaten to English football's greatest prize by unlikely champions Leicester City. For most of football, it was a remarkable fairytale to be celebrated. For Arsenal fans, it was simply a question of what might have been.
Unlike in 2013/14 and 2014/15, Arsenal were unable to secure the compensation of a cup win to appease their fans. Ultimately, 2015/16 simply served to expose many of the problems that have undone the Gunners this year.
New stadiums are infamous for providing tenants with teething problems, and Arsenal struggled in their first campaign in the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners were still in a period when they were accustomed to challenging for titles, yet in this season, they had to make do with what would soon become a familiar fourth-placed finish.
Arsenal had lost Ashley Cole to Chelsea in the summer, and William Gallas (who arrived as part of a cash-plus-player deal for the left-back) did not settle quickly in north London.
Arsenal's Premier League campaign never caught light, while their Champions League quest ended with an embarrassing round-of-16 defeat against PSV Eindhoven. Henry figured briefly in that tie before succumbing to injury. It would be his last appearance of this Arsenal spell, as he joined Barcelona that summer.
The season was marred by a defeat in the League Cup final. Arsenal's cocktail of youngsters and squad players had done well to reach the final in Cardiff but were unable to withstand Chelsea's assault.
In 2011/12, Arsenal suffered a massive 10 Premier League defeats. Wenger's losses column has only reached double figures on one other occasion (2005/06).
It ought to have been a glorious campaign—this season, after all, marked the 125th year since the club's inception. However, Arsenal endured a nightmarish pre-season, losing captain Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona. French pair Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri defected to Manchester City, forcing Arsenal into a late-summer trolley dash that brought them the likes of Park Chu-Young and Andre Santos.
Arsenal simply weren't ready for the campaign's kick-off, and it showed in their results. The Gunners lost four of their first seven league games, including an 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford and a derby defeat to Spurs.
The one redeeming element of the season was the manner in which Arsenal recovered from their dreadful start to salvage Champions League qualification. It came down to a tense 3-2 victory over West Bromwich Albion on the final day, but the Gunners managed to find their way back into the top four.
There haven't been many seasons more depressing at Arsenal than 2010/11. By this time, the Gunners were locked in a series of third- and fourth-placed finishes that would span a decade.
Arsenal did flirt with a title challenge in this season, having been just one point behind league leaders Manchester United as late as February. However, their assault on the championship faded in the spring, with Wenger leading his side to just one league win in the entirety of March and April.
There were plenty of games Gunners fans would like to forget. Over the course of the season, Arsenal suffered home league defeats against the likes of West Brom, Newcastle United, Tottenham and Aston Villa. They did manage to beat Barcelona at home in the knockout stages of the Champions League, but the scoreline was overturned at the Camp Nou, and Arsenal were duly eliminated from European competition.
Then there was the agony of Wembley. Arsenal reached the League Cup final, but Wenger was unable to lift the trophy for the first time. In a shock result, Birmingham City grabbed a last-minute winner to floor the Gunners. It was a setback that derailed Arsenal’s title challenge and arguably undermined their confidence for years to come.