The Arsenal were winning a lack lustre game 2-0, which Fulham overturned to make 2-3. The final score 3-3 was probably a fair reflection of the merits of each teams performance and added a point to our mediocre tally. Later the same day Manchester United were losing 2-0 and they managed to turn things around making it a 2-3 victory to maintain their position at the top of the league. These two games are a microcosm of how things have changed in the standing of the top clubs that used to battle it out for domestic supremacy.
The next fixture in the League is a home game against the team currently sitting above us in the table and that is all the game is (on paper): an opportunity to climb the table. However, everyone knows that the game is an important fixture on a deeper level as it is against a team who are obsessed with the Arsenal. With the negativity currently swirling around the Emirates a defeat would increase the levels of dissatisfaction that are on the increase to almost fever pitch. This escalation of hostilities will have make no significant impact on the powers that be who are comfortable with the financial side of things though.
Ironically a game against Sp*rs at this moment in time, to an extent, represents a no win scenario. Victory will offer a distraction from the realities of our current predicament. Defeat will be accepted with resignation and a draw will seem like a defeat and therefore viewed in the same manner.
This time around we are facing another mid-table side in the quest for points. That’s it pure and simple. Gone are the days of the Arsenal reiterating our superiority with a victory and laughing off a defeat because Sp*rs treated a victory over us as the be all and end all. We are fighting over the scraps of North London bragging rights. We now have smaller fish to fry it seems.
In criticising the Board and the manager it is unfair to exclude the players from any negative analysis. I believe that the quality of the squad is reasonable. Not great, reasonable. Debate can be had as to how we arrived at the squad we now have, certainly replacing quality with inferiority is a contributing factor, but the earlier part of the season hinted that there were enough players who looked like they were up for the fight.
As the season has progressed there is a sense that the issue is a deeper one as far as player performance is concerned. Players being played out of position is accepted when the team is winning. Weird substitutions are tolerated when the team is triumphant. Unfathomable selections are borne when the points are mounting up. These last two weeks have given the impression that the group of players that Arsene Wenger has assembled this season are an unhappy bunch. Fair enough, grins are not compulsory, particularly when results are going badly but there is a sense of defeatism amongst the boys. A glance at the bench during the Fulham game told its own story.
The corresponding fixture last year was something of a turning point in terms of our league position and contained performances from the likes of Sagna and Walcott that were great examples of playing for the supporters. There was still a feeling that the Arsenal could achieve something after that victory, a sense that these sorts of games meant something to the players. It was a response; an indication that the team understood what it was all about.
This season can we say the same? I’m not sure.