Arsenal’s Premier League Near Misses: Six Times They Finished Second

At the time of writing, barring something of a miracle, Arsenal are going to finish as runners-up in the race for the 2022/23 Premier League title. This will be the seventh time the Gunners have finished in second place in the Premier League era, equalling the unwanted record currently held by Manchester United. In this article, we’ll take a look back at the other six seasons in which Arsenal were runners-up and we’ll attempt to figure out what went wrong.

Arsenal’s Second-Place Finishes in the Premier League

Season League Winner (Points) Arsenal’s Points Total
1998/99 Manchester United (79) 78
1999/00 Manchester United (91) 73
2000/01 Manchester United (80) 70
2002/03 Manchester United (83) 78
2004/05 Chelsea (95) 83
2015/16 Leicester City (81) 71

As you can see, there was a definite feeling of déjà vu from the 1998/99 to the 2002/03 seasons as Alex Ferguson’s Man United got the better of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal on four occasions. To be fair to the Gunners, though, they did win the Premier League title three times around then, in 1997/98, 2001/02, and 2003/04. But let’s delve deeper into the times they didn’t quite have enough to be crowned champions.

1998/99 – Double Winners Fall Agonisingly Short

After Wenger led the Gunners to the league and FA Cup double in 1997/98, hopes were high that they would repeat the trick. They nicked the previous season’s title by a single point ahead of Alex Ferguson’s Man United, but the Red Devils returned the favour this time around.

In one of the most exciting Premier League title races ever, Man United and Arsenal were joined in the quest for top-flight glory by Chelsea. The Blues were initially managed by Dutch legend Ruud Gullit before he was sacked in the February (despite the club flying high in second place) and replaced by Italian legend Gianluca Vialli. Chelsea’s off-field distractions left a two-horse title race that went down to the wire. With United going unbeaten from Boxing Day to the end of the season, Arsenal almost kept pace… but defeat to Leeds United at Elland Road in their penultimate match cost them dearly and they lost the title by a single point.

1999/2000 – Gunners’ Title Challenge Falters Early

Not that it would have come as much of a consolation to Arsene Wenger or the Arsenal fans, but when the north London side lost out to Man United this time around, they weren’t even close. The margin of victory in the title race was a whopping 18 points, a record at the time and only surpassed in 2017/18 when Man City won by 19 points (ahead of Man United!).

That Arsenal were able to lose nine of their 38 games and still finish as runners-up shows how poorly the other potential challengers performed. But Arsenal’s chances of winning the title were severely dented in the August when they lost to Man United and Liverpool, and managed only a goalless draw at Sunderland. Losing games to Coventry, Bradford, West Ham and north London rivals Tottenham (among others) meant the Gunners were never really at the races.

2000/01 – Familiar Story as United Set the Pace

Boss Wenger was determined for his side to bounce back stronger the following season, but they got off to the worst of starts as they lost their opening match away to Sunderland. They reacted well by beating Liverpool and then, after a couple of disappointing draws, they even beat their main title rivals Man United 1-0. But that was one of only three defeats Ferguson’s Red Devils suffered between the start of the season and the end of April and, once again, United were just too hot for Arsenal – or any other team – to handle.

As it turned out, United had something of a mini collapse at the end of the season when they lost their last three games. But it was too late for Arsenal to do anything about the title and they ended up finishing 10 points adrift.

2002/03 – Double Winners Falter… Again

Wenger led his side to the second league and cup double of his time in charge in the 2001/02 season, but they couldn’t quite emulate that the following season… though they did win the FA Cup again.

Arsenal had looked well on course for the title for much of the season and were sitting pretty at the top of the table from mid-November to the start of April. But that’s when Man United turned on the style, winning nine of their last 10 games and drawing the other, against Arsenal at the Emirates!

Draws against Aston Villa and Bolton in the run-in cost Arsenal dear, but the nail in the coffin once again came from Leeds United who beat the Gunners 3-2 at the Emirates in early May. The Red Devils ended up winning the title by five points.

2004/05 – Not So Special a Season for Arsenal

Arsenal had won the previous season with their ‘Invincibles’ side going through the whole campaign unbeaten. But while Arsenal had the beating of usual title rivals Man United in this season, they hadn’t reckoned on the arrival of the Special One, Jose Mourinho, and how he would instantly improve the fortunes of Chelsea. In fact, the Blues were so good they almost repeated Arsenal’s unbeaten feat of the year before, losing just one match all season (to Man City).

Arsenal earned 83 points, their third-highest points total in the Premier League era, and five more than when they won the title in 1997/98. But even that was not enough to keep pace with Chelsea who clocked up a whopping 95 points as they stormed to the Premier League crown.

2015/16 – Missed Opportunity as Usual Contenders Crumble

Before the season began, if Arsenal fans were told they would finish above Spurs, Man City, Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea they would have assumed they’d be destined for the title. But out of nowhere, Leicester City shocked the footballing world by taking on the big boys and winning.

In what turned from an impossibility to a possibility, and then from a probability to a reality, the usual title contenders all fell by the wayside as Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes pulled off one of the biggest shocks in football history to win the Premier League. It wasn’t even that close in the end, with Arsenal finishing 10 points behind the unlikely champions. But that was still Arsenal’s highest league finish since the 2004/05 season and it was certainly viewed as a missed opportunity. Which is exactly what the 2022/23 campaign could down as if – as expected – the Gunners end up as runners-up for the seventh time in the Premier League.