The recent 3-1 defeat at the hands of title chasers Chelsea represented a watershed moment of sorts.
After some tepid performances leading up to the defeat at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger made the call to drop Olivier Giroud to the bench and reinstate Theo Walcott to the starting lineup.
The eleven was correct, and so to was the approach. Arsenal set about the home side and harried the normally composed Blues into making errors that could have been capitalised on. The Gunners pushed up and did not allow Chelsea any space.
It was working. Arsene Wenger had made the right calls, and Arsenal were looking dangerous.
It was no surprise though, when Chelsea took the lead. It was almost expected.
Arsenal’s midfield by the end of the game looked disinterested, jaded and second best to Chelsea’s men in the centre. The Gunners had created chances, but a mixture of Thibaut Courtois and profligate finishing saw these opportunities cast aside.
It was classic Arsenal in a way. How bad had this team been though, when fans can say this was an improvement on recent showings?
The match before this – the 2-1 defeat to Watford at home – saw the same lack of energy in the centre of the park, but without the spark up front. It was painful to watch and such is the standard of all teams in the top flight, the Hornets took advantage of this.
Arsenal were 12 points adrift after these two defeats. The title chase was over before it had begun.
That is because it is akin to watching re-runs on Dave all day. We have seen this tired programme before.
At least, prior to these last two seasons, we could plead our case a little.
We never had the squad to compete. Injuries have ravaged our team etc etc ad nauseum.
Last season though – and especially this one – Arsene Wenger cannot run and take cover behind these reasons, because they are not there.
Arsenal have possibly the best equipped pool of talent in the Premier League. Established internationals in every position. Back-ups of total pedigree. Every position is adequately prepped for catastrophe should the injury fairies choose to curse us once again.
We have had players missing, but not more than the league average this campaign. Even if we suddenly lost three or four, we could look to many different alternatives to patch over the wounds.
We are ready. This is the season where Arsene Wenger was due to show that with everything at his disposal, he could prove once again that he could bring home the title.
Yet, with fourteen games remaining, we are in the same, sad little pocket of chasers that we have been for over a decade. Progress has not been achieved. Optimisation of the resources at his disposal has not been achieved.
Arsene Wenger is a man with exacting standards, and the mental stick he will beat himself with after these two painful losses will be larger than ever. He is not accustomed to failure. The manner in which his men lost to Chelsea in particular though, is pure evidence that it may be time to step aside.
He set up the team correctly and Chelsea still swatted us aside with ease. Wenger simply cannot do any more.
What is missing is a cynical edge, a dash of gamesmanship. An ability to drop the aesthetically pleasing football and mix it when necessary.
Chelsea play some beautiful football, but if you go toe to toe with them, then they can mix it with anyone. They know how to win ugly.
When Eden Hazard scored his sides second goal – he shrugged off a weak Coquelin challenge and saw Koscielny back off in the box. He duly took the gift and scored.
Alexis went on a similar run in the same game. The difference was that Nemanja Matic picked up a booking for stopping the Chilean in his tracks. That is the contrast in mentality.
Arsenal have shown in the past that they can do this, but not with any regularity. How many times does it have to happen though, before we are able to adapt? When will he learn?
What is most alarming though, is the effort shown by our men. During some of our most insipid results – the losses aforementioned, the Bournemouth draw, the Everton and City defeats – when we should have been haring about the pitch attempting to grab maximum points, we have shown a lack of urgency.
If a Premier League match is not important enough to run yourself ragged, what will make these boys exert themselves?
All of these errors have been seen before, this tired script has been thumbed and read mercilessly over the years. Every summer we dare to hope that this season is the one where we break through that glass ceiling – but our wings are broken annually around February or March.
Arsene Wenger deserves our utmost respect. He has done more for our club than almost anyone. The way things stand right now though, it shows that he is not the man to take us back to the next level.
If we want to progress, then change is needed. I can’t stand to watch this again.