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Thank you for 2022/23, Arsenal

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Last season, my favorite Premier League soccer team blew a huge first-place lead that would’ve seen them clinch their first title since 2004. It was the equivalent of the Golden State Warriors blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers and losing the NBA finals a few years back. 

And you know what? I loved every second of it.

The Stage is Set

For those unfamiliar, England’s Premier League is widely regarded as the best soccer league in the world, with big names such as Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool calling this league home. To win this league, you must finish first in a 38-game season against some of the toughest competition around. There’s no room for Cinderella playoff runs or lucky play-in tournaments in this league; it’s all about pure dominance year-round – no days off! 

Yet, as tough as the Premier League is, one team has dominated the league for the better part of a decade now: Manchester City. 

Entering last season, Manchester City won the league in four of the previous five seasons and were looking to make it three in a row. They have the best players in the world, the best coach in the world and an endless budget where they can go out and sign the best players from other teams every corner of the globe. Many people disagree with their rise to dominance, but I won’t touch on that here. You can’t deny they’re a great team and a force to reckon with.

During that same timeframe, however, my favorite Premier League team, Arsenal Football Club, has had the opposite trajectory. Once one of the league’s best clubs, a recent lack of success has seen Arsenal struggling to stay competitive. This struggle has turned the club into a laughing stock on the Internet and undoubtedly turned them into the most meme’d team. 

To say that being an Arsenal fan over the past decade has been tough, both competitively and culturally, is an understatement. Therefore, it came as a complete shocker to me and many others when Arsenal was challenging City for the title this past season! It was nothing short of spectacular. 

Over the past few years, Arsenal has seen an overhaul at the club, prioritizing youth and quality signings thanks largely to their young and promising coach, Mikel Arteta. Once Arsenal’s captain during his playing years, Arteta has had success as a Manchester City coaching staff member and was waiting to take hold of his own team. 

Naturally, he chose to coach Arsenal and everything changed for the better. 

The stage was set for the successes to come.

The Journey

The 2022/2023 Premier League season kicked off and much like myself, fans and media had little to no expectations about how this season would go for Arsenal. They were projected to finish anywhere from fifth to eighth place, nowhere near the league’s top. 

The season prior, they blew a fourth-place lead to their arch-rivals Tottenham to qualify for the Champions League – the most prestigious club competition in the world – for the following season. As expected, expectations were low. 

Oh, how everyone, including myself, would be proven wrong.

Bolstered by new signings from Manchester City and a young squad looking to take that natural next step in their progression, the team looked hungry and things started off great. Arsenal only lost once in their first 21 games (!) and built a significant lead in the league table over the defending champions, City. I was in heaven. 

Genuinely, I was over the moon. I was invested in this season like no other and was excited to be an Arsenal fan once again. I loved everything I was seeing from the boys on the pitch and although the title was far from secured, the team looked hungry – I love that. They were playing some exciting football led by young prospects Bukayo Saka and William Saliba, to name a few.

Then they played City for the first time that season and lost. 

No big deal. Things are OK. Arsenal built a strong enough lead that they could afford to lose that match, so all good. We go again.

Then they built an even more significant gap in the table thanks in part to great results by Arsenal and a recent streak of poor performances by City. Again, I was in heaven – truly.

Then it all started to crumble. 

Deep down inside, I had a feeling things were not going to end the way we’d all hoped they would, but belief in this squad to do the unimaginable was keeping me going. 

However, fate had different plans in store.

The Destination

Then it happened.

Arsenal played Manchester City again and lost to City again, this time in embarrassing fashion. Their league lead was gone once and for all and the title challenge was over. Cue the memes.

I was heartbroken. I was devastated. I was frustrated, All of the above…

…and then, I wasn’t. 

For some reason, my overall mood shifted and I started to be grateful. Grateful that Arsenal made the season interesting for me and it wasn’t over halfway through like in the past. I was thankful they challenged the best team in the world until the very end and damn near almost won the league for the first time since 2004 when no one expected anything from them. 

I wasn’t devastated anymore because I decided to look at things from a different perspective. How could I be devastated when this season brought me so much joy and genuinely affected my overall mood for the better? I wasn’t going to forget that – I just wasn’t.

To truly convey the significance of this past season for me, you have to understand the dynamic within my group of friends. 

My friends and I LOVE sports, especially soccer. We always make sure to get together and watch the most important NFL, NBA and Premier League games, especially if our teams are playing against one another. We chill, have a few brewskies and vibe out. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. 

During Arsenal’s recent lack of success, though, watching Premier League games with the homies has been tough. Most of them are Liverpool fans and they’ve been on the up and up and formed one of the best teams in Europe, with a mountain of success to show for it. 

Even my brother, a Tottenham fan (smh), has seen more success than me. Tottenham managed to make it to the Champions League final a few years back, while Arsenal found themselves being eliminated in lesser competitions against inferior opponents! Wth?! So I got used to Arsenal losing to Liverpool and even Tottenham and had little to no faith in the club’s future. 

However, everything changed with this season. This past season made me fall in love with Arsenal and the Premier League all over again. Again, I was in heaven.

To a greater extent, this season made me appreciate a journey rather than an end. Maybe I’ve been too fixated on attaching my happiness to an end result without fully recognizing the progress made along the way, not just in soccer but in all areas of my life. 

Thanks to this past season, I want to apply the mindset of appreciating a journey rather than an end regularly. Yes, things might not always pan out the way we’d like them to in the end, but that doesn’t negate the happiness we’ve experienced along the way or even a lesson gained.

I don’t know, maybe I’m making too much out of this, but part of me says I’m not. This past season was huge for me, extending beyond just sports.

The season wasn’t a complete loss, either. For the first time since the 2016/17 season, Arsenal are back in the Champions League – woot! Now, Arsenal will be tested against the best teams in Europe in the most exciting club competition around! I can’t wait.

This past season was great and while some might view it as a total loss, I want to acknowledge the bigger picture and appreciate all of the authentic joys the season provided me with. 

This team is young and exciting and has signed incredible players to continue contending for the title in the coming years. Arsenal are now the ones on the up and up.

I’m stoked for this new season and hopefully, I can look back at it with even fonder memories than the last.

With all of that said, let’s finish things off this time, lads. 😅

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