There is a real ‘last days of the empire’ feel around Arsenal at the moment as the club limps from one setback to the next, while the gossip-hungry media snaps at its heels like a starving dog.
Weeks of poor performances have seen morale around the team steadily disintegrate to the point of farce, while long-suffering fans have been dealt blow after blow, reaching a level of frustration where anger has turned at last to sadness.
Something about the decision to leave Alexis Sanchez out of the starting line-up against Liverpool on Saturday – without any hint of an injury – smelled very off indeed and, if reports emerging today are to be believed, those suspicions were correct.
Alexis, it has been reported, was involved in a bust up with his team mates during a training session prior to the trip to Anfield and several players had to be separated. As a result, Alexis was dropped from his normal starting berth and the rest is history.
It is important to note that Arsene Wenger, when quizzed about the incident at his pre-Bayern Munich press conference, denied any such altercation took place but then, in his position, he would, wouldn’t he?
Whether it did or did not happen – and I suspect the truth of it is somewhere between the media reports and Wenger’s account – it has served as yet another fly in the ointment, an ointment that is becoming so filled with flies it is beginning to resemble a steaming pile of crap.
An apocalyptic narrative has grown up around the club in the last few months and it has created a toxic atmosphere but on the field and off it.
It resembles the near-permanent drip-drip of coverage around Chelsea last season, when Jose Mourinho’s grip on power was loosened week-by-week as the leaks poured out of the dressing room like water through a sieve.
Every run-of-the-mill incident that would normally be overlooked or ignored was magnified and woven into the destructive narrative, pushing it further – while sources continued to leak messages from inside.
In the end, Mourniho’s position became untenable; the squad – bar a few players – were simply not playing for him and were quite prepared to allow the team to drift towards the lower reaches of the table. It was extraordinarily selfish and petulant but, in the end, it had the desired effect. The greatest manager Chelsea have ever had was brought down.
While Mourinho’s quarrelsome nature no doubt hastened his demise, there are starting to emerge a lot of similarities between what happened last year and what is happening at Arsenal now.
The players have been underperforming for weeks and unable – or perhaps unwilling – to change the direction of travel. Excuses for poor performances or misjudgements have grown increasingly puerile and repetitive, and key players are publically spitting their dummies.
While Arsenal have held it together on the pitch a little better than Chelsea managed last year, we are starting to find ourselves cut adrift from the pack chasing the leaders and struggling to keep pace. And, once daylight emerges, it is difficult to see us recovering lost ground.
In truth, this is all uncharted territory for Arsenal fans. Relatively speaking, an entire generation has passed since we last had to deal with such a miasma swirling around the club, to the point where almost every day brings a fresh shovelful of shit for the pile.
It’s difficult, therefore, to know quite how to react, or where to turn. The man who once had all the answers, who could always conjure up a response, no longer seems able to do so. The players, meanwhile, have even less of a clue than us fans.
While it is important to remember that a week in football is a long time, and a couple of wins would lighten the mood significantly, it’s difficult to see it getting any better in the short term, particularly with wounds so openly festering among both fans and the players.
Tomorrow brings the visit of Bayern Munich in the Champions League, with Arsenal four goals adrift and without any hopes of producing the sort of performance that will see them progress. In short, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.