Arsenal have been one of the biggest and most successful clubs of the Premier League era – but surprisingly enough, they haven’t been top at Christmas very often. Only twice, in fact.
Following the World Cup break, Mikel Arteta’s Gunners have been guaranteed to be top of the tree at Christmas for months, with the 2022-23 campaign something of a different shape to usual, when the festive period represents the midway point.
This time, Arsenal have played 14 games, so there’s still plenty of the race to be run. But they’ve built up an impressive five-point lead over the champions Manchester City after their simply stunning early-season form.
Eight of the last 11 teams that are top at Christmas have gone on to lift the Premier League trophy. But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything – Liverpool have been top at Christmas six times and only won it once, while in none of Arsenal’s three Premier League title triumphs were they top on December 25th.
Here are the two times that Arsenal have been top at Christmas – and what happened next.
Arsene Wenger’s men were just wobbling a little as they went into their final fixture before Christmas, having won just one of their last four league outings.
Goals in injury time of both halves secured a relatively routine 2-0 home victory over Middlesbrough and meant the Gunners spent Christmas Day top of the table for the first time in the Premier League era.
Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea were actually the closest challengers, two points behind, while Manchester United were a further two points behind the Blues.
Arsenal actually maintained their form through until the Spring, with a 2-1 win at West Brom on Boxing Day kicking off an 11-match unbeaten run that lasted until March, picking up 27 points from 33 available.
But a 2-0 defeat at Blackburn proved a significant bump, while draws against Aston Villa, Manchester United and Bolton were costly. Their fate as runners-up was sealed when a Mark Viduka-inspired Leeds came away from Highbury with a 3-2 win in early May.
Wenger’s Gunners rallied to thrash Southampton 6-1 and Sunderland 4-0 in their last two fixtures, but it was too little too late. Sir Alex Ferguson’s United had been utterly relentless – going unbeaten and dropping just six points since Boxing Day – and ended up finishing five points clear.
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The post-Invincibles era and move to the Emirates had been a frustrating and disappointing time for Arsenal fans, but a brilliant young side in 2007-08 gave them genuine hope of winning titles again.
Jose Mourinho had made a shock exit at Chelsea while the vintage Rooney-Tevez-Ronaldo were yet to quite shift into top gear.
Arsenal had lost just once before Christmas and were playing some brilliant stuff, inspired by a young Cesc Fabregas at his dazzling best. On Christmas Day 2007, the Gunners had taken 43 points from 18 games, one more than United, and they’d just recorded back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Tottenham.
They fell behind United on Boxing Day, dropping two points in a 0-0 draw away to Portsmouth. From there, they regained their place at the top, taking 25 points from the next 27 on offer.
A dismal run of just one win from eight games from late February to early April saw Arsenal fall out of the race completely. They drew in four successive outings against Birmingham, Aston Villa, Wigan and Middlesbrough and lost 2-1 at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford.
They won their last four matches, closing the gap to just four points off champions United, but they finished third and the top two contested the Champions League final.
Eduardo da Silva’s horror injury and William Gallas’ almighty strop at Birmingham is rightly remembered as the moment the wheels came off. Any memory of that match is likely to bring out any Arsenal fan in hives.
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