Although in some ways Arsenal have always been a little mercurial, their performances in 2017 have seen them regress to a level where no one has any real idea how they are going to perform – least of all the manager.
Heading into tomorrow’s match against Manchester City, it is difficult to approach the game as a fan with any real sense of optimism or hope.
When the big teams come to the Emirates, there has always been a feeling of surety among fans – or least a confidence – that Arsenal will play good football and give everything to get a positive result.
Of course, there have been naive and disappointing performances over the years – a semi-final against Manchester United and a last 16 clash against Monaco in the Champions League spring immediately to mind – but the players could scarcely be accused of not giving it a good go.
Given how things have panned out in these last few months however, I am struggling to say, with any real certainty, that the players will do their best when they take to the field. There simply doesn’t appear to be the collective will among them, and that is something I have never experienced as an Arsenal fan.
People look back to the days of Denilson, Eboue, and Adebayor with a sort of mocking scorn but I have to say, I don’t believe that side would have gone down 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich – nor capitulated so badly against West Bromwich Albion.
The 3-1 loss in the West Midlands was our 2017 summed up in a single performance. It was tepid, it was lacklustre, and it was cowardly for large portions. The way Aaron Ramsey allowed his man to just drift idly by him at corners twice – despite Arsene later conceding that the team had spoken about that very scenario – was utterly baffling and infuriating in equal measure.
Where has this team’s desire gone? Where is their discipline? Is there enough fight in them to push their way back into the top four? I don’t think anyone knows.
Most fans are predicting it will be a rough day for us against Manchester City and I have to agree. I don’t think two weeks apart will have done much, if anything, to sort the problems that are weighing heavily on the team.
Arsene is very unlikely to change the way the team sets up, to introduce a safety first approach in midfield, and, for that reason, I can’t see that the end result will change either.
Given how weak our defence and our mentality is at the moment, we have to be very worried against the likes of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero.
Arguably a greater problem for the team will be the amount of pressure weighing down on them. This is a match they simply cannot afford to lose, lest they find themselves cut adrift of the top four but, as well all know, pressure can often bring out the worst in the team. They have shown time and again that they are well capable of collapsing under pressure and that remains a distinct possibility tomorrow, particularly if City manage an early goal.
I’d like to see Mohamed Elneny given a go in midfield alongside Granit Xhaka and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. That, at the very least, is a busy, hard-working trio and lord knows we will need plenty of industry tomorrow.
Pep Guardiola is renowned for his team’s high-pressing, high-octane attacking football and Arsenal cannot afford not to be on their game from the first whistle.
Every member of our back four is going to require some protection and anything short of a switched-on, disciplined performance from across the midfield will see us come up short. To that end, I’d like to see Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck in the wide positions, with both players mucking in to contain Sane and Sterling where required.
Can they do it? Given what we’ve seen from the team in the last few months, I’m hugely doubtful that we can take anything from this game. There would have to be a quite miraculous turnaround in form and fortune for us to collect the win. Of course, I remain ever hopeful and will back the team to the hilt, but this has been the worst second half to a season I have ever seen, and I’ve surely seen some stinkers.
If there is any luck left for us to use this season, let’s all pray that it arrives in a hefty dollop on Sunday. Come on you Gunners!