Some things in life are cyclical and if you observe them for long enough a pattern will emerge. The four seasons, for example, occur in the same order every year — not a tricky one to spot, that. But there is a similar, more subtle pattern to a contemporary Arsenal side and it goes something like this:
1) Arsenal play some decent football, score a few goals and rack up the points. Supporters, the media and especially the manager lavish praise upon them. The players relax as they are arrogant enough to believe their own hype and their manager doesn’t have the ability to keep them motivated.
2) A casual Arsenal underestimate a supposedly ‘inferior’ side and seem surprised that their mere presence on the pitch isn’t enough to guarantee victory as they fail to beat QPR/Swansea/Norwich/Bradford/Southampton etc
3) With confidence now low, a poor run of results ensues and fans realise they are being short-changed. Players and the manager are booed and phone-ins debate whether Wenger is still the right man for the job.
4) Stung by the criticism, the players knuckle down and eventually do what they are paid for. Results start to improve and Wenger is able to deflect attention from the real issues at the club with some clever spin which many gullible fans swallow. However, deep-rooted problems remain.
5) Go to 1).
Yes, we’ve been here before. This pattern is the reason I wasn’t too excited when we knocked seven past Newcastle. It’s sad, but I was pretty sure the next setback was just around the corner. It came a week earlier than I expected in truth, but if you examine our recent run of good league results the warning signs were there. We only played really well against Reading, who were awful and in a few months time will be a Championship side again. The win over West Brom was ponderous and we needed two penalties, one of which came from Cazorla’s outrageous dive, to see them off. A spot kick was also needed against Wigan, who should have had at least one of their own in injury time and deserved a point. We were getting the rub of the green alright.The Newcastle game was truly amazing and we were excellent going forward, especially Theo, but 7-3 doesn’t tell the whole story. I didn’t get a chance to write a report on that match, but I would’ve noted that it was evenly balanced at 3-3 on 70 minutes. Then injury-hit Newcastle — who had to play a left-back at centre-half and didn’t enjoy a Boxing Day rest like us — ran out of energy dramatically and we took advantage. The brilliance of Theo and the sheer drama of those three late goals (which added an unfair gloss to the scoreline) completely overshadowed earlier deficiencies. As such nobody questioned our comical defending, the lacklustre first half performance and how we only managed 45% possession on our own pitch because we don’t have a proper defensive midfielder to win the ball back.
Also bear in mind that those four victories came against teams in positions 5th, 19th, 18th and 14th. And now we’ve just drawn with the team in 17th place. The tricky opponents are yet to come!
I’m far too disillusioned to write about the match itself. If you want to know how we played, read my report from the Norwich game back in October because it’s pretty similar, the only difference being that our recent run of good luck continued today when an own goal earned us an undeserved point. We had one shot on target all game and Szczesny was by far and away our best player.
At least Wenger didn’t bullshit us in his post-match interview. He said:
It is frustrating. It is nothing to with the physical. Maybe we thought we scored seven against Newcastle and we’d score seven today. It was a game of magnitude today against a highly motivated Southampton side but I thought [our problem] was more mental than physical.
That’s as near as you’ll ever get to hearing Wenger admit his side weren’t up for it. Again. Why does this keep happening? It’s Wenger’s job to make sure they’re motivated for every single game but he repeatedly fails to do so.
We prepared normally and prepared well.
Well then, that’s the problem. If your preparations went well and you still produced a performance like that, they can’t be very good can they? Something is seriously wrong with your methods Wenger because this keeps happening.
Meanwhile Spurs won again, without Bale, and are moving away from us. We still have to visit White Hart Lane and they look so much better than us that I can’t see us catching them. Yes we were in a similar position last year, but as I’ve said many times before, we don’t have van Persie anymore.
The only good news is that the transfer window is now open, although I don’t think we’ll buy anyone of note. Maybe a promising youngster like Zaha, but I can’t see Wenger splashing the cash on a quality, ready-made star. He will try to do things on the cheap again and that includes getting Walcott to sign a contract. It is absolutely ludicrous that our top scorer is now free to talk to other clubs and I can’t think of a better way to illustrate just how badly our club is being run these days.