Arsenal’s title odds in the Premier League betting last season told us in fractions what we all knew in our hearts.
That despite maintaining a healthy lead at the summit for most of 2022/23 it was always going to require a Herculean effort to hold off one of the richest clubs in the world in Manchester City. That it was the Blues who had the wherewithal and the know-how to ultimately prevail.
This was reflected in the odds that only had the Gunners priced as out-and-out favourites when they extended their advantage to a significant margin, elsewhere sharing top billing in the betting with a City side who had to persistently play catch-up from the end of August to the end of April.
This seemingly counter-intuitive trend reached its apex when Mikel Arteta’s men drew away at West Ham on April 16th, 24 hours after City had defeated Leicester at the Etihad.
Though Arsenal still boasted a four point lead at the top, it was their northern adversaries who were given the shorter odds in the football betting. That’s where the smart money was going.
Was this because the Gunners had begun to drop points while City continued to relentlessly rack up wins on a weekly basis?
Momentum is a huge factor when determining the eventual destination of the Premier League trophy so of course this informed a narrative that had City strongly backed to succeed and Arsenal tipped to fail, long before that transpired.
Yet, results solely on their own merits do not wholly explain why the Gunners fell short, and as pertinently, why almost everyone expected them to.
Beyond the draws late into their season, and a defining loss at the Etihad with six games remaining, there was an additional two reasons why Arsenal were constantly cast as the underdogs.
And you can’t help but feel that Arteta will be pondering these two aspects a lot this summer. The first of which is that Arsenal played with far too much emotional baggage in 2022/23.
Gooners may bristle at such a suggestion but it’s true nonetheless, and this played itself out on multiple occasions last term, exemplified by group huddles and players rousing up the home crowd.
Arsenal were on a cause, it was an adventure, and we’ve seen this high-spirited approach propel a club to great heights and great performances, only to eventually be their undoing before in the Premier League, namely with Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool in 2014.
Back then, cooler heads would have had the Reds make sure of the points at Crystal Palace in that famous and crucial 3-3 draw, but emotional drove them forward, looking to improve their goal difference. It was this valiant quest that proved so costly.
In Arsenal’s case, their fervent investment in every match saw them streak ahead of the rest, accumulating an impressive 73 points from a possible 90 by mid-April, averaging 2.5 goals per 90 in the process.
But when the games became must-win and the pressure mounted, that emotion became a negative, making each contest a draining cup final. Everything became heightened and worse yet, at a juncture of the season when the players were naturally jaded.
Compare and contrast, that high emotion with City’s approach at the tail-end of the title race.
A switch was clicked, the fabulous football ceased and they became a clinical, uber-professional machine. All that mattered was securing the three points, the rest becoming background noise.
Can Arsenal, well fancied in Premier League betting tips, adopt this more detached process going into next season? It doesn’t bode well that their most highly-strung individual happens to inhabit their technical area.
The second reason for their runner-up status is also of a psychological nature, extraneous to the actual football and it concerns a winning mentality.
Again, Gooners will bristle at the notion that their team ‘choked’ last term but again it is undeniably true. How can 2.4 PPG in the first three-quarters of their campaign dwindling to 1.3 in their last quarter be viewed as anything else?
Here, some sympathy is deserving of a young side not used to navigating the extremities of a title fight whereas City are old hands at doing so, successfully fending off two ferocious challenges from Liverpool in recent years.
The Blues are hardened by their previous battles. Streetwise. They knew they could and would prevail while Arsenal merely believed it was possible. That’s a huge and seismic difference.
In this particular regard, there are positives to take from last season into the next. Because Saka, Martinelli and company will have learned so much from coming close but far. Perhaps it might amount to an immensely painful, but immeasurably constructive, education.
This summer, the Gunners and City – along with the rest of the chasing pack, naturally – will be seeking to strengthen their squads in order to go again, and inevitably a great deal of emphasise will be placed on these signings in order to ascertain who are in the best possible shape.
From Arsenal’s perspective, however, don’t downplay the importance of changing their outlook and sharpening their belief. It may bring them glory yet. If not, we'll be seeing the Gallagher brothers and other famous Man City fans celebrating yet again.