Arsenal and the ‘top club’ tag

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Are Arsenal a ‘top club’? Fiorentina’s Luca Toni certainly doesn’t think so.

With team-mate Stevan Jovetic’s admission earlier this week that he would be tempted to leave Viola for a move to Arsenal, the 35 year old Toni (yes, the behemoth striker is still playing) decided to throw around his veteran weight by recommending Jovetic only leave for a “top club.”

While expressing his desire to see Jovetic stay at Fiorentina, Toni said that if the Montenegrin striker is to leave the club, it should be for the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea. The former Bayern Munich player said: “I tell him to think carefully before leaving Florence, as there is an important project here. If he has to leave, then make it for a real top club. Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United fit that bill, but Arsenal are not better than Fiorentina.”

There’s little doubt that Toni’s words will trigger the ire of Gunners supporters but does the Italian striker make a point? A look back at Arsenal’s finishes over the last three years suggests that he does.

Arsenal currently sits 5th in the table on 50 points, four points behind Tottenham and a Champions League qualifying spot, five points behind 3rd placed Chelsea, nine points behind 2nd placed City and 24 points behind table-toppers United. Last season the North London club finished 3rd, only to be out-done by City and United. And in 2010-11 the Gunners finished 4th in the table behind United, Chelsea and City. These facts, combined with the failure to win a trophy during that time, means that Toni raises a good point – United, City and Chelsea are all clubs that, within the last few years, ‘top’ Arsenal. We’ll come back to this topic in a little bit.

But what about Toni’s assertion that Fiorentina is on par with Arsene Wenger’s side?

Fiorentina are currently 4th in the table on 51 points, three points behind AC Milan and a spot in the Champions League. The Florence side trails 2nd placed Napoli by five points and top-of-the-table Juventus by 14 points. Last season, however, was a different story for Fiorentina, who stumbled to finish 13th in the Serie A table. Their prior campaign wasn’t much better, finishing 9th in the league.

So while Fiorentina and Arsenal may be enjoying nearly identical seasons, it’s hard to see how the two clubs can be considered to be on the same level. Apart from the current campaign, Fiorentina has struggled to consistently finish in the top half of the Serie A. They also haven’t qualified for Europe since the 2008-09 season and haven’t won a trophy since the 2000-01 Coppa Italia. Arsenal, on the other hand, have qualified for Champions League every season since 1998-99. And, since the turn of the millenium they’ve also won two Premier League titles (2001-02, 2003-04), three FA Cups (2002, 2003, 2005) and two Community Shields (2002, 2004).

Sorry, Luca, but the numbers speak for themselves. Arsenal are ‘better’ than Fiorentina.

Which brings us back to the original question – are Arsenal still a ‘top club’? For my money – and I am an Evertonian, not a Goonah – the answer is ‘yes’.

Merely because United, City and Chelsea have all had better runs of late doesn’t mean Arsenal should be stripped of the ‘top club’ label. Granted, they are nearing 8 years without a trophy but the Gunners are consistently one of the top clubs in the league and in Europe – putting them head and shoulders above clubs like Fiorentina.

Whether Arsenal have any interest in bringing Stevan Jovetic into the fold, and whether the 23 year old would be able to make an impact at the Emirates, however, are questions for another day.