When Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin put together a run of really quite impressive performances together in midfield, I dared to hope that Arsenal had hit upon the balance needed to knit the disparate parts of the team together.
The shield to keep teams from exploiting our soft underbelly – which had been so regularly exploited over a period of years – had arrived at last, it seemed.
And yet here we are, barely a handful of games since the two were first paired together and I’ve been made to look a fool, taken in again by the desperate hope of fan all too ready to believe that better is just around the corner.
Even with the two of them operating in the heart of the midfield, hounding and winning the ball back high up the pitch, the team has proved just as liable to exploitation on the counter attack as it has in the last few years.
That’s not to say that I blame the two of them for the team’s recent woes – far from it. They are simply working within a system that has been set for them from above, by the coaching staff and by Arsene Wenger.
In the draw at White Hart Lane, and the defeat to Barcelona at the Nou Camp, Arsenal defended with intensity and in numbers. They harried and hounded effectively, and worked plenty of chances on the counter attack.
Okay, they may not have got the right results in both of those games, but the method and the application was spot on, they looked better balanced and more like a team fit to compete in the high-intensity style demanded by today’s game.
So what has happened to that system?
Why has Arsene reverted to a system of playing where so many players are committed to the attack that the defence finds itself perilously, irrecoverably exposed?
It’s a system that results in a team a goal up against a struggling Palace side, with barely 10 minutes to go, conceding with the first effort on goal from the opposition in 45 minutes.
And not only that, I think of the winning positions that have been tossed so meekly aside – even in the last six weeks or so – against Swansea, Tottenham, and West Ham – points dropped that should never have been dropped.
Where Arsenal have been forced to plug away for huge periods of matches, raining in 10 or 15 chances before a goal is forthcoming, our opponents need merely a moment, one or two chances maximum, to reap their rewards – Routledge of Swansea and Bolasie of Palace two prime examples.
It has happened so often these last few years and it is utterly maddening.
Can the problem really be that difficult to solve? Or is it a problem that Arsene doesn’t want to address, fearful that doing so may force him to curb his players’ natural tendency to attack?
It seems obvious that the answer is the latter of those, and something has to change. Either the mentality must change, or the manager must.