In the run-up to last week’s Chelsea clash, I wrote about how I expected it to be difficult match and I think we were all braced for the sort of performance we eventually got.
Fast-forward a week and it’s a pretty much a case of deja vu as we face a trip to reigning Premier League champions Manchester City, a match few, if any, neutrals would expect us to take anything from.
In all honesty, not many Arsenal fans would look at this match with anything other than dread. It’s one I think we’ll be glad just to get out of the way and forget.
That’s not to say that we can’t take something from the Etihad. After all, on it’s day, this team has shown that it can be resilient in defence and devastatingly clinical in attack and surprise results occur surprisingly often in the Premier League.
The cold, hard reality is, however, that this Arsenal team is at the beginning of its life cycle and a million miles away from its destination. By contrast this Manchester City side is already at the destination, has slapped on its swimming shorts and filled all the deck chairs with towels.
Even in better times, we have seldom come away from the blue half of Manchester with much to show and there is little about the circumstances of this weekend’s trip to suggest things will play out otherwise.
While we may not see the victory we would all like, what we should expect to see is a vastly improved performance from this team. Notwithstanding the debilitating absences, our early season exploits have been marred by amateurish defending and impotent attack. That won’t do.
A repeat of the sort of efforts we saw at Brentford and against Chelsea will result in a sizeable drubbing in the north east and that won’t be good for morale, either among the players or the fanbase.
A lot of good work and good will went in to West Bromwich Albion game on Wednesday and it would be a huge shame if that galvanising experience were shredded so quickly. Fortunately, unlike against Brentford and Chelsea, we can expect to see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka sharp and starting, we can expect Alex Lacazette to be in the mix, we can expect Martin Odegaard to bring his talents to the party, and we may even have Hector Bellerin available to fill the glaring hole at right back.
We’re still a little short of full strength, with Thomas Partey and Ben White missing, but the quality level of Saturday’s Arsenal should be a level above the one which floundered against Thomas Tuchel’s outfit last week.
And while victory remains very much a remote possibility, an improved performance is not and should not be. If we can go into the international break with a few more minutes under our belts and something approaching a settled squad, we can start to look towards the Norwich game with a little more optimism and intent.
It’s meagre fare, I admit, but it is our reality – at least for now.