And so it happened. Inevitably, of course, with the question of “when?” the only issue to be resolved. Leicester City have been crowned champions, bloodying the nose of the élite. Congratulations to them, through gritted teeth, and I’m sure that nobody will begrudge them their success.
All except for those clubs punished by the Football League for breaching FFP rules, of course. They will be wondering how they suffered whilst The Foxes escaped thus far, with questions also raised about their sponsorship deals. No doubt that will quietly shuffle into the round filing cabinet.
Footballing romance in the 21st century.
Some are happy that anyone but the richest clubs won the title. And, in fairness to Claudio Ranieiri and his players, they found a rich vein of togetherness, the like of which they will struggle to replicate. Some of that will due to sales with most likely Mahrez and Kante leaving this summer whilst those that stay know it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they didn’t spurn.
As for Tottenham, I would offer this up as a memento of their campaign.
A campaign which is rapidly turning to something sticky. I genuinely cannot recall an implosion like last night’s brutality; they came for war and ended up shooting themselves in the foot. Comparisons to the battle of Old Trafford are not wide of the mark; it remains to be seen if the FA will punish the club to a similar extent, particularly since Tottenham have already been found guilty once already this season for failing to control their players.
It would be so typical of Arsenal’s season to snatch second place through the Tottenham players failings.
And hugely amusing, the stuff from which enduring football songs are born.
There are bigger issues for Arsenal – and others in the élite – to deal with. Have Leicester taught them anything new about football? Behind the scenes maybe and Arsenal’s poaching of Ben Wrigglesworth was indicative of that, as well as damning of the existing set-up.
But on the pitch? No, not particularly. Ranieiri hasn’t developed an unanswerable tactical style, simply a squad of players who understood their roles in the team and about how the XI on the field works. Teamwork. Ego? Of course, but this is a group of men willing to subsume theirs for ninety minutes every week.
How will they cope with the strains caused by more fixtures next season is a regularly asked question. Quite what it has to do with them winning the title this year is anyone’s guess.
The biggest lesson is about investing money into the squad. They squeaked clear of relegation last year and acted to avoid that scenario this season. Arsenal meanwhile finished third and didn’t build on that. It’s about attitude in the boardroom and the coaching staff, including the manager. They had a goal and went about their business in achieving that.
As Louis Van Gaal and Arsène both point out, it’s harder to buy players for the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal. The talent pool of players who can improve the squad is smaller than that of the average Premier League club. I don’t argue with that at all, it’s a fact.
But it doesn’t absolve Arsène and the Arsenal board for not strengthening the squad last summer. The lessons of the previous decade, primarily about the depth to which injuries are suffered, were yet again not learned. If they were, a midfielder or two would have been signed instead of Petr Cech being left holding the door open, with only tumbleweed entering Highbury House.
If Leicester City’s success has taught Arsenal anything, that is the lesson. They have to eschew the natural conservatism which binds them to a minimal risk business plan. As little investment as possible to achieve the minimum target. Critics of Arsène’s critics always ridicule claims about a lack of ambition.
I don’t think he is unambitious but he’s become too much imbued with the manner of thinking that his desire has been numbed. Not dimmed, numbed. It doesn’t seem to hurt him as much that others are more successful. He might hide it better than he did in the past but it doesn’t seem so.
Of course there has to be a will, a desire to make the changes. Other clubs – and I’m thinking of Southampton, Everton, West Ham – have seen the Leicester success and believe it could be them. The top four is by no means as clear-cut as it was although the heavy investment expected from City and Chelsea may give it a familiar feel with United lurking as well.
Once again we’re at a point where Arsenal need to act to preserve their status but the ground is shifting. With Mourinho and Guardiola, Wenger faces managers who have regularly got the better of his sides and know Arsenal’s weaknesses without scouting them. He has to adapt as well or next season’s swan song will be more of a whimper.
If Arsenal thought moving to the stadium was a testing time, Leicester winning the title could well be a more seismic shift in football.