When Arsenal fell two behind in the 40th minute at Liverpool on Sunday, you wouldn’t help but wonder if the fans had already started to think of yet another avalanche in defeat.
It’s been a recurring theme of the North London side in the past few seasons, dosage of heavy defeats away to the top sides mixed with avoidable defeats against the not-so-fancied clubs, and, three games into this new campaign, it’s already happening again with little catalyst for change. But who to blame?
First, the players. It’s one thing to lose against Crystal Palace and Watford or lose heavily to Chelsea and Liverpool, it’s another to fall to those defeats without so much as an ounce of effort put in.
Mesut Ozil was non-existent at Anfield on Sunday – for the umpteenth game, Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck were toothless up front, young defender Rob Holding looked out of his depth and could do with some time out of the side, while Granit Xhaka was, well, Granit Xhaka.
Then again, there was no Xhaka or Holding when the Gunners got humbled 4-0 at Southampton in 2015, no Sanchez or Welbeck in the damaging losses at Chelsea and Liverpool a year earlier, nor was Ozil on the scene in the 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford in 2011; which brings to the manager, Arsene Wenger, the constant throughout these torturous years.
The Frenchman publicly took the players to the woodshed after the Anfield defeat, just like he did against Stoke the previous weekend, but he should know that a brunt, if not all, of the blame lies on his shoulders.
Starting Welbeck ahead of record signing and better goal-scorer Alexander Lacazette is baffling, but not as chancy as playing Hector Bellerin as a left wing-back, while Sead Kolasinac, a more natural option, watched on the bench. And most of all, he hasn’t seemed to recognise the problem of Xhaka’s laxity in midfield, which could be corrected by a more defensive partner or replacement, which would lead to the annual request for the gaffer to sign a defensive midfielder.
It’s little wonder the fans are always on his back, constantly calling for his head.
And that leads to the next culpable figures, the Gunners hierarchy up above.
This isn’t the first- or even fifth- time that Arsenal have been on the receiving end of capitulating defeat, yet over the years the Arsenal board don’t seem to have taken any firm step towards the manager, not even a warning that results of such manner are unacceptable at the club. Letting Wenger play jump-rope with contract speculation last term, which played no small part in their implosion could be seen as proof that the fans might keep suffering from the club’s lack of decisiveness.
There’s still tumult as to whether or not talisman Sanchez might leave, if he’s convinced that it’s worth sticking around, and how much he would give if he does stay. The Chilean had plenty to think about after coming off at Anfield; the manager and the board also a few things to ponder on as well. But will they?