Most teams in football find it difficult enough to win a single trophy in any given season, let alone three. Not every team that manages to win three trophies in one year can go around calling themselves treble winners, however. This is because there are only two widely accepted types of treble in football. First, you have the domestic route which involves winning the top-flight league title and the country’s two major domestic cup competitions. Alternatively, there is the even more prestigious continental treble and for this clubs need to win their domestic league title, the Champions League and their nation’s main domestic cup contest.
So, for an English club like Arsenal, the treble would either involve the Premier League, the FA Cup and the League Cup or the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup. Have the Gunners managed either of these though or has the treble always been one-step too far for one of the most successful clubs in English football history?
Arsenal Without a Treble
Given how many trophies Arsenal have collected over the years, it may surprise you a little to learn Arsenal have never clinched a treble. Really though, you should not be remotely surprised because pulling off either treble is an incredibly challenging feat. The domestic treble has been a possibility since the creation of the League Cup in 1960/61, while the continental possibility began in 1955 with the introduction of the European Cup.
Even though clubs have had many decades to complete a treble, only once has an English team managed it – this being Manchester United in 1998/99. Even pulling off ‘the double’ (the FA Cup and top division league title) has been something of a rarity in English football. There have only been 12 instances of it, with Preston North End becoming the first in 1888/89. Despite lacking a treble, Arsenal do have the joint-highest number of double successes, managing this challenging accomplishment on three occasions. On one of these occasions, they were just two matches from a domestic treble and they have come fairly close on a couple of other occasions too.
Almost But Not Quite
Let us quickly look at the times Arsenal were only a few victories away from securing a Treble during the club’s long history.
Hopes of a treble in 1997/98 were ultimately extinguished in February as Arsenal were knocked out of the League Cup at the semi-final stage. With the north Londoners not playing in the Champions League this season either, there was no chance of a continental treble. The League Cup loss to Chelsea was a very slender one though with the Gunners losing just 4-3 on aggregate to their London rivals. Merely one extra scorer in the second leg at Stamford Bridge would have seen Arsenal prevail on away goals, setting up a final with Middlesborough. As Boro were a second-tier club at the time, the north Londoners would have been huge underdogs for the showdown at Wembley.
Had that match at Stamford Bridge gone differently, it is of course possible that Arsenal might not have won the Premier League and FA Cup. Perhaps the pressure of the treble would have become too much but we will never know for sure. Assuming they would have seen off the competition as they did though, this means the Gunners were just one goal and one victory away from the treble, making it the closest they have ever come.
It was a very similar story in 2001/02 as it was in 1997/98. This season Arsenal wrapped up the Premier League title (the hardest part of a domestic treble) and also the FA Cup. It was the League Cup that once again let them down though, despite making a very impressive start to the competition.
The Gunners were initially paired up with Manchester United in the third round but a tight-looking encounter ended up with a 4-0 scoreline. A 2-0 win over Grimsby Town followed, putting the Londoners into the quarter-finals at which stage they met Blackburn. This contest did not go according to plan though with Rovers hammering their more illustrious opponents 4-0.
Arsenal only collected one trophy during their so-called invincible season, in which they did not lose a single league game, but they were not a million miles away from a potential treble. Arsène Wenger’s side got as far as the semi-final in both the League Cup and the FA Cup and in both cases they lost out to the eventual champions.
Had things gone a little differently for them in both semis, they would have been strong favourites to lift the pair of domestic cup competitions. In the FA Cup, Arsenal would have faced a second-tier Millwall and in the League Cup they would have faced a Bolton side that ended up finishing 37 points behind them in the league.
Continental Treble Attempts
The three above seasons all show Arsenal being not too far off a domestic treble. When it comes to a continental treble though (that is, what Man United achieved in 1998/99), the red part of north London have never been close. Their best efforts in the Champions League came when runners-up in 2005/06 and when reaching the semi-finals in 2008/09.
There was no domestic success in either of these seasons though. In 2005/06, Arsenal finished fourth in the league and faced elimination from the FA Cup in the fourth round. Fourth was also their finish three years later although they did get three rounds further in the FA Cup.
Future Hopes for Arsenal?
It can be difficult to make accurate long-term predictions when it comes to football as so much can change. Clubs can benefit from being bought out by billionaires while others run into huge financial problems and end up with points deducted. Assuming nothing too extreme happens in either direction though, it could be a very long time before Arsenal manages to achieve their first treble. The FA Cup element of it does not look like being too problematic. In 2019/20, they won the competition for the 14th time, the highest number of triumphs in English football.
The League Cup, although historically has not been too good for them, is something they should regularly have a fair shot at too. The main issue with the domestic treble route is the league title, something that Arsenal have not been close to winning since the 2007/08 campaign. For the continental treble, meanwhile, it has been hard enough just qualifying for the Champions League since Arsène Wenger’s departure let alone reaching the latter stages.