Much of the talk around Arsenal this week has been about managing expectations after a pretty lacklustre start to the season.
In this context, managing can be read as lowering, which is not something any Arsenal fan has really had to do for the last two decades or so.
Whatever the circumstances, most of us have always believed the team was capable of a tilt at the league title, or at least that we could stay in the hunt well into the new year.
This season is an altogether different animal, however. We find ourselves almost certainly dead and buried in terms of the league title, barring a catastrophic series of events at Manchester City, and at several other clubs, for that matter.
So our sights now turn, depressingly, to putting together as strong a performance as we can in the hope of landing a placing somewhere between second and fourth place. Mediocrity is fast becoming our meat and drink.
It feels something like a transitional period, only without the organised or orderly feel to a process which should be meticulously planned and orchestrated. It feels as if the board of directors is just making it up as it goes, without any real idea about what to do next.
That feeling of chaos and disorder is mirrored almost perfectly on the pitch.
We are stumbling and staggering restively towards Arsene Wenger’s last days. Like the fall of the Roman Empire, there is anger, violence and unrest as what remains of the army battles to keep the enemy from the gates.
Ivan Gazidis and co should already have been making the moves to sure up the foundations, to underpin everything about the club that is good, while adding bits and pieces here and there (coaches, assistants, directors etc) to make sure that when Arsene’s departure happens – and it will happen – the club isn’t staring into a chasm.
Despite a few noises about Marc Overmars and former Barcelona officials, however, it doesn’t seem as if any of that incredibly important work is being done off the field. It feels like everybody is sitting on their hands, watching and waiting for some miracle to materialise and for everything to be ok. This season, more than ever, is showing that just is not going to happen.
While defeat at Manchester City was not a disaster, anything other than victory over Tottenham at the Emirates next week will spell catastrophe for Arsene and for the team. I loathe hyperbole on that sort of scale but it is true. The North London Derby is a match we cannot afford to lose and barely afford to draw.
Defeats at Stoke City and Watford, games we should have been targeting for routine wins, have brought us to this precipice. Ok, fortune was most certainly against us on both of those days, but our quality should have been more than enough to cancel out that particular variable, however unpredictable it can be.
So now, with those two defeats costing us six priceless points, we have to look at the Spurs game as a must win. In different circumstances we may have taken a point in this fixture and been quietly satisfied – but not this time around.
If we are to keep the wolf from the door, and keep the smouldering remains of the Arsene Wenger dynasty from collapse, we have to get a win and keep ourselves moving towards the top of the table.
I don’t deny that even victory in the derby wouldn’t fix anything for this team – the cracks have long since become deep crevasses – but we need all the points we can get if we are to find our way back into the Champions League next season.
The Manchester City clash showed a sort of tactical organisation and discipline about the team that we know it is capable of, but that is rarely used by Arsene save for the most backs-to-the-wall matches.
The team pressed reasonably well, attacked in numbers and with fluidity, and generally passed and moved in an effective way. We didn’t get the result we were hoping for but that is more done to City’s quality than any overwhelming errors of our own making.
We will need to be just as focussed and disciplined against Tottenham in order to get the result we need. Going forward, I don’t think we will have any problems creating chances. Where we are likely to struggle is in be tight enough in defence to keep Spurs from swamping our three-man defence on the counter.
For me, that is where the contest will be won and lost. If Arsenal can get their defending spot-on, that will go a long way to bagging the points.
If they can’t, the consequences don’t bare thinking about, but it is likely to get very nasty indeed inside the Emirates.
So while, in all likelihood, we are going to have to set our sights lower this season, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect good performances from our players.