Arsenal Football Club has won the English First Division or Premier League 13 times, but “the Gunners” have not lifted the trophy since the 2003-04 season. Often, in English football’s top flight, the team that finds itself at the top of the table on Christmas Day becomes the champions of England. However, Arsenal continually bucks this trend, and the past five times they have been top of the tree on December 25, they have failed to remain there when it counts.
Three of Arsenal’s 13 top-flight titles have come during the Premier League era, which started during the 1993-94 season. All three of those titles resulted from Arsenal making up a points deficit over their opponents. Unfortunately for loyal Arsenal supporters, their beloved team has blown a table-topping lead the last five times they have been the team to catch on Christmas Day. Why does this matter? Because Arsenal was the team to catch on December 25, 2023. Will history repeat itself?
Going From Heroes to Zeroes
In 1986/87, Arsenal went from first at Christmas to finishing fourth. They were top at Christmas in 1989/90 but again finished fourth. Fastforward to 2001/02, and Arsenal finished second to Manchester United despite leading the league on Christmas Day. They then finished third in 2007/08 after setting the pace in the first half of the season.
Last season, Arsenal were five points clear of Manchester City, the favorite to win the title with online betting sites in California and worldwide. However, a late-season stumble caused them to finish second; Arsenal was in first place for 30 of the 38-week campaign.
The current 2023/24 season headed into Christmas Day with Arsenal leading Liverpool by one point. Manager Mikel Arteta guided his team to 12 wins, three draws, and two defeats going into the final day before the holidays. Arteta’s men traveled to Liverpool’s world-famous Anfield stadium, knowing they would be the team setting the pace if they avoided defeat to their title-chasing rivals.
A fourth-minute goal from defender Gabriel gave Arsenal the lead, but Liverpool’s talismanic forward Mo Salah equalized for the home side in the 29th minute. The game ended 1-1, and the point earned for the draw guaranteed Arsenal would be in first place on December 25.
Is History Already Repeating Itself?
Arsenal was not in action again until December 28. However, Liverpool and Aston Villa, two teams hot on their heels, played on Boxing Day. Aston Villa fell to a 3-2 defeat away at Manchester United, but Liverpool secured all three points with a 2-0 victory on the road at struggling Burnley.
The Gunners hosted London rivals West Ham United on December 28, with everything pointing toward a home win. The West Ham United manager David Moyes had never emerged triumphant against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, or Manchester United in 72 previous attempts. Moyes’ 73rd attempt ended in an ultra-rare victory.
Arsenal dominated the early stages yet fell behind to a controversial 13th-minute goal from Tomas Soucek, controversial because the ball appeared to go out of play during the build-up to the goal. West Ham doubled their lead 10 minutes after the break when Konstantinos Mavropanos headed home a superb James Ward-Prowse cross. “The Hammers” missed a penalty in added time but ran out worthy 2-0 winners, leaving Arsenal in second place, two points behind Liverpool, who went top with their win over Burnley.
Arteta and his talented squad are not back in action until New Year’s Eve, when they make the short journey to Fulham. Arsenal could go into that fixture as low as fourth if results go against them; Aston Villa plays relegation-threatened Burnley on December 30, and Manchester City takes on the Premier League’s bottom side, Sheffield United, on the same afternoon.
Does Arsenal Have What It Takes to Win the Premier League
Although Arsenal dropped to second in the table immediately after Christmas Day and could head into 2024 as low as fourth, the North London club is a genuine title contender. Arteta can call upon Kai Havertz, who sat out the West Ham United defeat through suspension. Fabio Vieira, Takehiro Tomiyasu, and Thomas Partey are almost ready to return from their injuries.
Furthermore, Arsenal still have to play Liverpool (February 4) and Aston Villa (April 13) at their Emirates Stadium home, in addition to traveling to Manchester City (March 30), three games where they can make up points on their nearest opponents. That said, they have a monumental task ahead of them.
First, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool look back to their brilliant best and have only slipped to one defeat through the first 19 games of the Premier League season. Then, there is Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who have not been their usual ruthless selves yet are only five points off first with a game in hand. Guardiola has several elite-level players nearing their return to the first team, which spells bad news for their rivals.
City traditionally put their foot on the gas during the second half of a Premier League season. Last year, they won 15 of their last 19 fixtures to pip Arsenal to the post.
The 2023/24 English Premier League has reached the halfway stage, and Arsenal still has a legitimate shot of being crowned the competition’s champions. Finding themselves at the top of the table on Christmas Day was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they were the team to catch, but on the other, it reignited the age-old conversation about Arsenal never winning the Premier League when they were first at Christmas.
Right now, Arsenal’s destiny is no longer in their hands. All they can do is take each game as it comes and do everything in their power to claim all three points in every game they play. Their biggest challenge will be to overcome their anxiety of having a strange, unwanted record hanging over them.