Is Manchester City Too Big A Giant For Arsenal To Kill?

Since their own golden age in the 1930s, Arsenal’s primary role in the top flight of English football has been to act as the giant-killer, the club that could most be relied upon to rise up to the challenge of an apparently dominant opponent and somehow beat them, interrupting or even ending that club’s period of success.

Now, however, in the wake of coming runner-up to Manchester City in the Premier League for the second season in succession, Arsenal and their fans must be starting to wonder whether City are a giant that are just too big to kill.

Better Than The Invincibles, But Still Not Good Enough

It says everything about Arsenal’s performance this season that they have won two more games in the league than the legendary Invincibles side of 2004. Yet, that has still not been enough to overhaul Manchester City. Of course, this Arsenal side  lost far more games than the Invincibles did (five in total), but they drew also far fewer (only five to the Invincibles’ 12) and ultimately secured just one point less than arguably the greatest ever Gunners side over the course of a full 38-game season.

The problem for this Arsenal side is that in Manchester City now they are undoubtedly facing an even bigger giant – especially in financial terms – than the Invincibles did when they confronted and often beat Alex Ferguson’s great Manchester United side over nearly a decade.

The same is also true of earlier iterations of Arsenal sides, particularly the 1971 Double-winning team that overcame Don Revie’s great Leeds side, and George Graham’s 1989 and 1991 title-winning teams, which effectively ended Liverpool’s long period of dominating English football.

Are City Really Even A Club Side At All?

At the end of last season, a question asked was: is Manchester City really even a club side at all? Because City is owned and supported by the enormous petrochemical wealth of Abu Dhabi, which is not just a nation state but one of the richest nation states in the world, it has the kind of financial might and even more importantly financial certainty that very few other clubs can match.

Although a club’s wealth is not the sole determinant of its success, as proven by the relative failures of both Manchester United and Chelsea in recent years after they spent enormous sums, it is the single biggest determinant. City’s immense wealth and complete financial security has allowed the club, over time, to build up a squad of such depth that no other club’s in England can really compare to it and only Real Madrid’s in the whole of Europe really bears comparison.

In all six of their title-winning run-ins under Guardiola, from 2018 to 2024, City never lost a single game. They have occasionally drawn matches during a run-in, but usually only against other title rivals, such as Arsenal this year. This is quite unlike any comparable period in English football history when even the very best teams.

Effectively, City has been able to insulate themselves against such shocks and uncertainties, in the same way that Abu Dhabi itself has largely been able to insulate itself from the tumult of the Middle East with its vast oil wealth.

Can Arsenal Ever Topple City?

In the wake of City’s record-breaking fourth consecutive English top-flight title, it is the first time that has been achieved in nearly 150 years of English professional football. It was widely said that Arsenal or any other team in the Premier League will not really have a chance to topple them until Guardiola leaves the club. And perhaps that impression was strengthened by Guardiola’s admission, after clinching his latest title, that he is obviously nearer the end of his time at City than he is the beginning.

Nevertheless, there are other ways in which it might be possible for Arsenal or another team to end City’s long reign of domestic dominance. The most obvious one is if City are found guilty of enough of the 115 charges of financial irregularity against them for the Premier League to impose serious sanctions on them, such as transfer bans or even the removal of points. Of course, the harshest punishment of all would be to remove some of City’s silverware and award it to other teams, but that seems unlikely to say the least.

The other way in which Arsenal can possibly overtake City is to do the one obvious thing that Arteta has not tried yet in his five years at the club and sign an out-and-out striker. Arsenal has done so well without one that the temptation might be to plough on without one, especially given the need to reinforce midfield with Thomas Partey likely to leave the club this summer.

However, as has been said many times before, a 20-goal-a-season striker, ideally one who is good in the air and can score goals out of nothing, is the glaring lack in this Arsenal side. Surely Arteta will fill that gap this summer.

And In Europe?

Finally, if Arsenal or any other English team, is unable to overtake City domestically, they may just have a greater chance of beating them in Europe. City may have won six of the last seven top-flight titles in England, but they have only one Champions League or European Cup in that period. It is that relative failure in Europe that surely gives Bob Paisley’s great Liverpool side of the late 1970s and 1980s the edge over City as the best English club side ever, because they dominated Europe as well as England.

Although the Champions League is expanding yet again next season, it will still require far fewer games to win it than the Premier League does. Consequently, notwithstanding the continued excellence of Real Madrid, for the foreseeable future Arsenal and other English teams might just fancy their chances of winning the Champions League more than they do their chances of winning the Premier League.

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