Arsenal’s Nightmare Before Christmas leaves them hopelessly adrift in bid for league title

As far as nightmare scenarios go, it was truly a week to forget for Arsenal as they twice squandered winning positions to slip to consecutive defeats.

To make matters worse – if such a thing was possible – almost all of our rivals picked up six points to boost their Premier League ambitions while, in the space of seven days, all of our hard work to date was undone.

Some would say it is still early days in terms of the league, with plenty more football to be played, but there is a real feeling that the chasing pack are now fighting for places, with Chelsea clear at the top by a mile.

Every team is going to have its lean periods, and Chelsea will almost certainly experience the same in the weeks and months ahead, but nine points is a hell of a buffer to have against such an eventuality.

An inexplicable defeat against a poor Everton side was difficult to take, particularly having taken the lead, and surrendering the lead to Manchester City last night was just as unpalatable.

Manchester City and Pep Guardiola are not mugs but this was probably the worst City team in terms of personnel for a number of years. It was shorn of key players and patched together with a makeshift formation players thrust into unfamiliar positions.

It was one of those classic ‘great time to play them’ moments that Arsenal are so fond of messing up, and this was an occasion in which they did just that.

Having cut City to ribbons to take the lead after barely five minutes, the Gunners proceeded to outplay City, hassling, pressuring, getting in behind their defence. Sure, City carried a threat in attack but they were woeful in defence and we exploited the yawning gaps time and again.

After 45 minutes, we were a goal to the good and very much in control.

And then we simply stopped. All the things that helped us to dominate in the first half we decided we weren’t going to do anymore. Instead we decided to drop deep, to panic, to attempt ridiculous passes on the edge of our area when surrounded by City players, to thrash the ball into empty space.

It was as if Arsene had told his players to do exactly the opposite of what they had been doing. In the space of the 15-minute half-time break, we appeared to completely lose it.

Although their first goal was offside – a fact which Arsene is, for some reason, roundly criticised for pointing out – it shouldn’t have been the hammer blow to the game that it proved to be.

The City defence of the second half remained the hopelessly inadequate one it had been in the first half, the only difference is that we couldn’t get beyond the half-way line to exploit them.

Instead we were forced to soak up unending pressure, just as we did against Everton, and the goal inevitably came – just as it did against Everton. It was a carbon copy performance in almost everyway. The more cynical among Arsenal’s fanbase were making the comparison in the minutes after Theo Walcott’s opener, and how right they were.

It was bizarre to watch them make the same mistakes as they had done just days earlier, as if they had learned absolutely nothing. The most alarming thing about it all was the way in which they folded under pressure, pressure they had created all by themselves by consistently giving the ball away so carelessly.

There is barely a single positive to take from Sunday’s antics. It really was the most awful end to an awful week and one, I fear, that has already put the league title beyond this team.

All we can do from here is to try and get some points on the board in back-to-back home games against West Brom and Crystal Palace. Any less than six points over the Christmas period, and we will quickly find ourselves embroiled in a battle simply to stay in the top four.

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