Much was made of the five away trips Arsenal faced in their last eight Premier League games, about how tough they would be and how the race for the top four was still wide open.
Frankly, I didn’t buy it. I didn’t believe Arsenal could possibly throw away the chance of a Champions League place when the situation before them was so inviting, so achievable.
Many friends of mine (Tottenham fans primarily) told me they had little to fear for their own position because they didn’t see Arsenal getting any wins on the road. I was incredulous.
With so much at stake, I was sure the Gunners could find three wins from those five, taking points against sides whose seasons were more or less spent, whose players would probably already have shifted their focus to the summer and their upcoming holidays.
Not so. Today’s antics at Leicester proved the truth of those aforementioned claims. The Gunners simply couldn’t be trusted to fight hard enough to get the points they needed. Instead, they regressed into the sort of flat, listless, cowardly approach that ultimately saw the end of Arsene Wenger.
The performance at the King Power was everything it shouldn’t have been. It lacked intensity, lacked control, lacked fight, and ambition – it was a performance that demanded punishment, which is what it received.
After abject efforts against Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton, and a fortuitous victory over Watford, you could be forgiven for thinking we were due a return to something like normal service.
In some ways, it was normal service, in that the defending was so laughably comical, it reminded me of the sort of normality we saw under Wenger.
It must be so easy for teams to sit down and plan for an Arsenal match because they can be assured of half a dozen glaring errors, without exception. They can approach the game safe in the knowledge that they will be gifted the opportunity to score and, if they can stay reasonably solid at the back, that will be enough to earn them victory.
We’re embarrassingly exposed in our wide areas, our centre backs are prone to rash, stupid acts, and our midfield are notorious for taking little or no interest in their defensive duties.
Despite those problems being obvious to all and sundry, Unai Emery has failed to find a way to address them in any lasting, meaningful way. He can coax a run of performances from his side, of that there is no doubt, but he can’t find a way to iron out the creases that plague us and that means a return to this sort of pathetic football is never far away.
This whimpering, gutless end to the season was typified in Leicester’s second goal when a long lump up field caught Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis cold and allowed Jamie Vardy to get the better of them both. One long punt and we were undone – there was no other Leicester player within 30 yards of the ball and yet Vardy cut through us as if there was no opposition at all. How can it be so easy?
How can a side with pretentions of a top four place concede nine goals in three games at this stage of the season, against teams with so little left to play for and stuffed full of average journeymen?
I said in a previous blog that our top four hopes were extinguished with defeat against Crystal Palace and the truth of that has been well and truly proven. The self-fulfilling prophecy of our own inadequacy on the road has become a full blown character trait of which there is no recovery for some of our players.
Our defence will require an enormous overhaul in the summer that will see the vast majority of them moved on and many hundreds of hours spent on the training ground.
I don’t doubt the absence of Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin has cost us dearly but there should have been enough experience and know how in the players left behind to get us over the line against teams such as Leicester.
And though much of my ire has been directed at our defence – and rightly so – I don’t mean to absolve our midfield of blame because they too have been missing in action. They too have been listless and wanting when needed most. They have been outfought and outmanoeuvred and been powerless to react under pressure.
Aside from Bernd Leno, there are absolutely no positives to take from our efforts today. All we can do from here is write off the Premier League and focus everything we have left on winning the Europa League because we’re now in desperate need of a lift after the shittest 10 days of the season.