Arsenal fans could be forgiven for thinking that Champions League qualification slipping away in the manner that it did would make this season a failure.
Of course, had they avoided defeat to Tottenham in the north London derby earlier this month and then again Newcastle a few days later, Sunday’s emphatic 5-1 thrashing of Everton would have been enough for a to four place and a return to European football’s elite club competition.
Arsenal haven’t played Champions League since 2017 and being back there – as it was year after year for nearly two decades – remains the ultimate ambition.
But remember where the Gunners were last season and where they started this season.
Arsenal finished eighth in the Premier League for the second year in a row in 2020/21. They were only in the Europa League last season because of an unexpected FA Cup triumph in 2020, rather than through their domestic league placing.
This season, they had no European football at all for the first time since the 1995/96 campaign.
2021/22 also began atrociously with three consecutive defeats, Arsenal’s worst start in 67 years, and they remained in the bottom half of the table until October.
By being in contention for a top four place, Arsenal had overachieved by previous expectations. The only reason that fifth place may feel like a failure is because it was within reach – but perhaps it never should have been because this team is still a work in progress and not ready.
Overall, they finished nine points better off than in 2020/21 and 13 points better off than 2019/20.
“In a few weeks' time, when we are on holidays and we look back at what we've done I think everybody would agree that we did more than was expected, for sure,” manager Mikel Arteta had reflected ahead of the final game against Everton.
“We've come a long way with a lot of things, especially in who we are as a club and the connection between what we're doing and how people feel about it. That's really important as well and it takes a long time to build that trust."
Developing a successful football team takes time – it took three years for Jurgen Klopp to get results at Liverpool. Arsenal are still a very young side and will have Europa League football to look forward to next season, an important step that signifies walking before starting to run.