It is a more complicated question than it first appears. At least the answer is. It is easy to give a glib response that success is winning the Premier League, but expectations have to be tempered with realism. That would also suggest that a season that doesn’t end with the title being lifted has not been a success, which blatantly is just not true. So, I’ll ask it again, what does success for Arsenal look like this season?
There is no doubt that things are looking up compared where we were five years ago, three years ago, even 12 months ago. There have been false dawns before, of course, but after a period in the wilderness – the second place in the 2015-16 season (acknowledged as being the weakest league for a long time) being the one league bright spot in recent years– fans can be forgiven for starting to dream. This season has started encouragingly so it could really could be a time to build momentum as opposed to rue another false start.
One note of caution, however, is that the rest of the league has not sat about idle while Arsenal attempted to get their house in order. The Premier League best odds have Arsenal behind Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea to win the title. That puts them outside the Champions League positions.
For this season, it does look like top spot is one step too far for a Gunners’ side that is still finding its feet and identity. Liverpool have improved marginally on last season, but it does look like there are four, perhaps five, teams that are in the chasing pack behind City, and each one of those will see the top four as the minimum requirement this season, but also as a success. Suddenly the words of Wenger seem more and more astute, though the league has evolved in the years since he gave that comment.
Two of the key elements that will help to define if this season is a success have already been mentioned. Identity is a word that is bandied about far too often in the modern game, but it is very relevant here. For far too long it looked like there were so many disparate factions of the club, the squad and the team. This was largely down to the constant flux of management and the direction they wanted to take the club, and the style they wanted to employ in order to achieve that. At long last, that seems to have been righted. Arteta knows what he wants from his squad, knows what is and was lacking and most importantly appears to have actually done something about it. Arsenal have an identifiable way of playing, something all the players can buy into. That may seem the most obvious ingredient for success, but it has been something sadly lacking from the club for far too long.
The other element is momentum. If the fans (and board for the matter) can see progress, can see evidence that the club, the squad and the team are moving in the right direction, then suddenly everyone becomes a lot more understanding. Patience is not something that comes in spades in the top tiers of football, but even that would abound if the club were seen to be building towards something, taking incremental steps towards a common goal.
If all of those things happen, then there will not be many Arsenal fans who are unhappy come May. The icing on the cake will be finishing above Spurs and picking up some silverware, including the Europa League which suddenly seems to have lost its tinpot tag.