All the talk in the wake of a truly abject defeat against Watford was about re-focusing for today’s make-or-break visit to Stamford Bridge.
From the players through to the manager, his coaching staff, and even the tea lady, the need to work harder and be stronger was evident to everyone who saw us caught cold at the Emirates on Tuesday.
And yet, despite all that, we find ourselves once more picking over the fetid corpse of 3-1 defeat to league leaders Chelsea. Not a valiant defeat, not even an unfortunate one, it was a defeat that was deserved and resulted from a lack of belief, concentration, fight, and desire from Arsenal. It was another defeat of the team’s own making.
For legions of weary Gunners, the result was all too familiar; if similarly painful to a litany of defeats we have suffered at key junctures down the years. The seasons are different but the results are the same.
Much of the blame must be directed at Arsene Wenger, primarily because he remains the one constant amid the shifting stable of players who have come and gone over the years.
The team must also take a share of the blame today, however, as a desire to win and the will to fight cannot be taught, it must be inherent and it was in staggeringly short supply at Stamford Bridge.
Only a win would have kept Arsenal in with a chance of the Premier League title and yet, despite that, the team lacked the fire that was absolutely crucial to our chances of success.
Though they started the game well, and with a plan to keep Chelsea pinned back, they seemed to abandon all hope the second the opening goal went in. For me, it was a clear foul on Hector Bellerin, an elbow to the face that would be given 99 times out of 100 but, inexplicably, it was allowed to slide.
Despite that, there was no sense of injustice from Arsenal, no resolve to fight their way back, they simply went into retreat. Sometimes, decisions go against you, it’s part and parcel of the game, but the best teams always react.
Instead, the positioning went out of the window, the game plan was abandoned and Arsenal seemed to click into autopilot. In truth, we skated by the remainder of the first half, while Chelsea wasted some presentable chances.
True, Arsenal did create two good chances of their own but, here again, they fell short and wasted both opportunities. In a game such as this, with the margins so tight, they simply had to go in.
I have no doubt that the players were given clear instructions in the build up to the game, and each of them was trusted to do a job, but they simply didn’t do it. Energy and intensity were the key to putting Chelsea under pressure but them team was lacking in both respects, they weren’t consistent enough.
Often the pressing was done by one or two players at a time, instead of as a team, making it ineffective and pointless. If you’re going to press, it has to be done for the full 90, with everyone in tune and alert to their responsibility.
Frankly the less said about the second and third goals the better. They were pathetic and symptomatic of a team that seemed to be getting by without much of a plan and in the grip of a sort of existential crisis.
It was a terrible way to surrender our title challenge for another year. A gutless whimper of a performance that sees us slip away once more into the midst of a top four battle. Just not good enough.
I don’t know who we’ve got next in the league or, indeed, if our next fixture is even a league match. At this point, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this team goes away and takes a long, hard look at themselves – the manager included.
Questions need to be asked and honest answers given. If Arsene has to go back to drawing board tactically – as Antonio Conte did – then so be it. We cannot continue down this path because, as we know from bitter experience, it is taking us nowhere as a club.
Though any chance of the title is gone, there is still plenty of football to be played between now and the summer and everyone has a duty to do the club justice. There is a chance now to make a change and show some guts and some class because the fans have been patient enough.