Another week rolls around in the Premier League and here we are hoping that Arsene Wenger will happen upon a working formula that might drag his team into something approaching cohesion.
Not since the victory over Tottenham last month have we seen Arsenal put in anything like a complete, coherent performance, with just fleeting snippets of our best form in defence and attack.
And, in fact, our last two league matches have seen us hit yet another buffer, with the side managing to look underwhelming in almost every aspect of the game.
If we consider the win over Spurs was our best all-round performance of the season, it stands to reason that we might have attempted to replicate it on more than one occasion since then.
Of course different opponents require different approaches but how far away from such a fluid, aggressive, and swashbuckling performance do you need to stray? It was the sort of performance that, if replicate 38 times in a season, would yield far more victories that draws and defeats.
And yet, since that heady autumn afternoon, we have largely failed to hit anything like the same heights, nor approach our opponents with anything like the same tenacity and desire.
Hence, since the Spurs game, we have huffed, puffed, and frustrated in abundance, playing into the hands of teams who see us as ponderous and predictable.
The Southampton game was the very epitome of this malaise. Arsenal contrived to make them look like a defensively solid and yet explosive counter-attacking team, worthy of one point and, arguably, all three from our encounter at St Mary’s.
Scarcely three days later and the very same Southampton team, at the very same stadium, was made to look like a veritable pub team in a thrashing by mid-table sack specialists Leicester.
The contrasting levels of performance sum up Arsenal this season. Troy Deeney’s now infamous ‘cojones’ comments struck a nerve with many fans but they continue to hold true as Premier League teams take points from a side they know lacks the sort of togetherness, tactical nous, and willingness to fight that might make for a difficult afternoon.
I’m not asking for 38 wins from 38 matches, but I am asking for a side that aspires to return to Champions League football takes more than two points from two matches against pretty woeful opposition. No, we haven’t lost either match but, if we are being brutally honest, we came close to doing just that.
How is this problem solved?
Many would argue that it won’t ever be solved until Wenger steps down – and there is a lot of truth in that. It seems clear, however, that he is going nowhere in the short term and so we must play the hand we have been dealt, like it or not.
The most pressing requirement seems to be in midfield, where the team is being outsmarted with alarming regularity. The balance just isn’t right.
It is lacking solidity and discipline when not in possession and enough attacking thrust when it is.
If we consider that Wenger is incredibly unlikely to purchase anyone of any substance in the January transfer window, he must look to change things from within.
If that means dropping Alexis Sanchez in favour of someone more disciplined defensively but who retains a keen attacking instinct, so be it. It is clear the gamble to keep the Chilean has not paid off and thus I don’t think there will be many arguments were he to be sold.
Let’s get someone in the position who genuinely wants to be at the club and fighting to get on the team sheet every week.
As to the centre of midfield, the manager has an enormous conundrum. I like both Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey as players, but it is clear they need support defensively, as neither is well suited to screening an increasingly exposed defence. Perhaps a switch to four across the back will allow for an extra body in midfield.
Whatever the manager decides to do, there must be a change. The team is in a real period of stagnation and is in danger of losing touch with its rivals for the top four if its form continues to be so poor over Christmas and into the new year.
We need a spark and we need it quickly.
While I’m almost certain we will have too much for Newcastle this weekend, whatever system we run with, we must start looking to the future and coming up with a way of playing that is going to yield the sort of consistency that means we don’t hammer one of the league’s best one week and scrape draws with mediocre relegation battlers the next.