Sometimes you just can’t legislate for human error.
You can train, analyse, prepare, support, encourage, and direct, but you cannot do anything about the capacity of a human being to make a mistake in a big moment.
That is all Unai Emery has to console himself tonight as he pours over the costly mistakes that turned a certain three points against Crystal Palace into a disastrous defeat that hurt the Gunners’ top four chances in a big way.
While the focus has quite rightly been on our away form and whether we could overcome tricky trips to Everton, Watford, Wolverhampton, Leicester and Burnley, it was taken for granted that we would stroll matches against Palace and Brighton.
As has so often been the case, however, that complacency has cost us.
Shkodran Mustafi, a man clearly out of his depth in a top six side, chose a key juncture in a must-win game to produce the latest in a catalogue of errors that will surely signal the end of his time in north London this summer.
His inexplicable misjudgement allowed Wilfred Zaha and Crystal Palace – both almost entirely ineffectual up to that point – to steal into the lead and, as heads dropped, the third goal arrived not long after.
The Arsenal defence also failed to cover itself in glory for either of Palace’s other two goals, in truth.
Credit to Arsenal’s attacking players, who were excellent in the second half in finding two goals and almost producing a third, but there is only so much they can be expected to do when those playing behind them are so fallible.
For me, it’s almost certainly the end of the line for Mustafi. After a honeymoon period of six months, in which he could do almost no wrong, the German has shown himself to be error-prone and, frankly, incapable of the sort of calm, efficient defending that is absolutely crucial to the chances of a side pushing for the top places in the league.
If not for injury to Rob Holding and the suspension of Sokratis, Mustafi would be a fourth choice squad option and I have seen nothing this season that dissuades me that that view is incorrect. Unlike good squad options, however, Mustafi is unreliable and that just isn’t good enough.
Today should have been a celebration of moving into third place, five points clear of Manchester United, and three points clear of Chelsea. It should have been about striking a telling blow in the race for the top four.
Instead, we find ourselves dragged back into the mire, with yet more pressure on our away fixtures than was already the case.
What aggravates more than anything else is the self-destructive nature of it. All three goals were entirely avoidable and were the direct result of having people in our defence who just aren’t up to the job in the same way that the midfield and attack are.
Arsenal don’t have long to pick themselves up and recompose before Wednesday’s trip to Wolverhampton, and they will simply have to hope they can find a way to muddle through the rest of the campaign with a defence that seems to stagger from one match to the next.
Mercifully, we will have Sokratis back and available for selection but, even then, we can take nothing for granted.
Mistakes are dreadfully costly in situations as tight as our top four race and we can’t afford another one. No more slips, no more lapses, no more gaffes. If we harbour any serious ambitions of success this term, we have to dispense with the schoolboy football.
I feel for the manager in all this. He was forced to field a team he hoped – rather than expected – would have enough to get the job done for him, with injuries and suspensions colouring his options to a large extent.
He will, I’m sure, feel a great deal of culpability for what transpired but, in truth, there is only so much he can do with the cards he has. I hope that he can find a way to keep these players motivated and focussed until he can make the changes needed in the summer.