Only six days ago, Arsenal were riding high after defeating fellow title contenders Manchester City. Confidence was high and expectations only higher. The tactical approach paid dividends and the myth that Arsene Wenger had no Plan B was dispelled once and for all.
Then, Saturday came and Southampton were the latest team to keep up the theme of chaos in the Premier League with an accumulator-wrecking and comprehensive 4-0 thumping. This season has shown there are no gimmies or resting on laurels this campaign.
This leaves Arsenal in an uncertain position as the fixture congestion escalates.
With some players looking lethargic during the ninety minutes at St Mary’s stadium, rotation is necessary, especially as this game at home against a reinvigorated Bournemouth side comes only two days after the mauling against Southampton.
So who can come in to the Gunners side and provide the energy and drive that was severely lacking on Saturday?
Alex Iwobi, Calum Chambers and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were all substitutes during that dismal display but may have done enough to sway Wenger into selecting them, with Joel Campbell and Mathieu Flamini possible sacrificial lambs. That would mean Chambers playing in the holding midfielder role, which has been where his most recent cameos have primarily been played. Whether this may be an acid test too far for the young England man will only be evident during the game.
Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky are still all missing for the Gunners, and that is just in midfield. Add to this Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez and you have a wealth of experience and talent that would surely leave any team bereft. Yet Arsene continues to defy logic and keep his side within touching distance of the Premier League summit.
It is the Gunners inability to finally grasp the last rung on the ladder that frustrates Gooners so much. Criticism has been bandied around on all open forums but what was to blame was a mixture of fatigue, lack of fight and the most pertinent – Southampton simply wanted it more. They were first to every fifty-fifty, they overruled the midfield and never let Arsenal’s defence settle. It was an accomplished performance and no matter how much the form guide states that your team will win, there will be games where the team you love dish up a display that is offensive to the eyes. All top teams do it and we can only be thankful our propensity to do so has been less frequent this season.
So, the match against Bournemouth is a chance for redemption and to regain some some confidence before the game against Newcastle United in the weekend. It will be far from a cake walk though.
Cherries boss Eddie Howe has overseen a six match winning streak and his teams style of play, despite missing their most potent attacker in Calum Wilson, has caused all opponents problems. Will he choose to adopt a more closed philosophy that worked for Ronald Koeman so effectively? Or will he continue to stick to the attacking principles that has seen his side more than hold their own in the Premiership?
He may have to do without the services of dynamic midfielder Harry Arter, but Lee Tomlin may boost midfield numbers. Josh King will miss out so Glenn Murray will be the expected target man.
No one can honestly claim they can foresee the result, regardless of stats and numbers, but what is mandatory is three points to maintain a title challenge. Manchester City are still only a point behind, with leaders Leicester still two points in front. Everything is still up for grabs and still easy to throw away, just as it is before every match.