Solitary Arsenal player | Bigstockphoto

Arsenal have won the league, by which we mean the top tier of English football, an impressive 13 times. That puts them third on the all-time list, behind Liverpool and Manchester United but well clear of Manchester City (who have moved fourth on the list, with 10, now one ahead of Everton). Even so, after a number of disappointing years towards the end of the Arsène Wenger regime and the seasons since then, finishing second in 2023/24 represented a very decent campaign for the Gunners.

Whilst a club such as Arsenal should always be aiming to win, coming second meant they solidified their position as Man City’s main rivals. They also finished second to Pep Guardiola’s men in the 2022/23 campaign but that was their highest finish since back in 2015/16. What’s more, in 2023/24 they collected 89 points, their best tally since the Invincibles campaign of 2003/04 when they last won the league.

However, due to Man City’s brilliant consistency, 89 points, so often in the past more than enough to see a side win the Premier League title, was only good enough for the runners-up spot. But just how often have the Gunners finished second in the league?

Second Best on 11 Occasions

Arsenal vs Man City
Arsenal vs Man City (wonker | Flickr)

Arsenal have finished second in the league, including the Premier League era and the old First Division, on 11 occasions. That means that, just as with titles, they are third behind Man United and Liverpool, who have finished second 17 and 15 times respectively. Aston Villa are fourth on that list, with 10. Their haul of seven title wins means they are the only club with at least four successes to have finished second more often than first.

We have already mentioned the 2022/23 and 2023/24 campaigns. On both of those occasions Man City were the champions, with Arsenal just two points behind most recently. A year earlier they had not taken the title race to the final day of the campaign, ending five points behind Pep and co. Let’s take a look at some of the other notable times the club have occupied the “first loser” spot, but before that, here is a table showing all the times that has happened.

Year Title Winners
2024 Man City
2023 Man City
2016 Leicester City
2005 Chelsea
2003 Man United
2001 Man United
2000 Man United
1999 Man United
1973 Liverpool
1932 Everton
1926 Huddersfield

As we can see, the Manchester duo, in particular the Red Devils, have been Arsenal’s chief tormentors. Perhaps the one that hurts the most, even more than the recent campaigns that have seen Mikel Arteta’s men accrue strong points tallies, was the 2015/16 campaign, when Leicester were the 5,000/1 champions.

82 points would have been enough for glory that year but the Gunners managed just 71, finishing well back in second. That feels like a real missed opportunity, although in brighter news Spurs were third that year. And in more positive spin, at least the club’s greatest rivals have never actually pipped Arsenal at the post!

2015/16 – Leicester Defy Odds to Achieve Miracle

As said, 2015/16 was a tough one to take because, with all due respect to what Leicester achieved and the incredible campaign they had, they should not be finishing above the Gunners. After a long wait for another title it seemed like a real chance missed, with Man City, Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool all under-achieving in the same season.

Arsenal, managed by Wenger still at that time, were top of the table after 10 games. That they lost two of those and drew another shows just what sort of season it was but they made it to the summit of the PL table twice more, including around the halfway point of the campaign when they stayed there for four gameweeks.

However, perhaps making it to the top of the pile was too much for a group with little experience of going all the way, because it was at this point that they faltered. In January and early February they collected just three points from four games.

Two wins followed but they then limped home, only managing to cling onto second spot because everyone else was so poor. After those victories they lost back-to-back games, and then drew five of the last 10 games of the season. What might have been!

Second Five Times in Eight Seasons

For most of the 1990s Man United were almost unstoppable, and that carried on into the 21st century. However, the Gunners did manage to get the better of them, winning the title in 1997/98, 2001/02 and, of course, in 2003/04. At that time there were eight consecutive seasons where the club finished no lower than second, truly remarkable consistency and testament to just what a fine manager Wenger was.

They finished second to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils in three consecutive seasons at a time when the rivalry between the two clubs, and the managers, often boiled over into unsavoury (although technically pizza is savoury) incidents. “Pizzagate”, or the “Battle of the Buffet” as it is also known, happened a little later, in 2004, but between 1998/99 and 2000/01 the only team to finish above Arsenal in the Premier League was Man United.

There was just a point in it in 1999, although 12 months later Arsenal were fully 18 points shy of the 93 United managed. The Gunners closed that gap a little in 2000/01 but were still 10 points behind the eventual champions.

A few years into the new millennium the English football landscape really changed, with first the money of Roman Abramovich flooding into Chelsea and then the Russian’s millions being spent by Jose Mourinho. In 2003/04 the Blues were second to the Invincibles but the roles were reversed 12 months on as Chelsea stormed to the title with 95 points, 12 clear of the Gunners.