Another fine mess…

Blackburn 4-3 Arsenal 

Back to the drawing board.

To be honest, the drawing board would be an improvement on the losing board, where we find ourselves time and again after another false dawn. Collaps-o-Arsenal© is not a fleeting blip, it’s endemic, and the most worrying thing of all is that Wenger seems entirely powerless to remedy it.

So it’s hardly surprising that there’s been another major outbreak of introspection among Arsenal fans. These on-field failings have been happening for years, and they are not abating. There is an unpleasant whiff of decline in the air.

There comes a time when even the most ardent Wenger fan has to ask whether the real problem lies not with defensive training, or with a mysterious lack of concentration, or with a lack of quality players, but with Wenger himself. I don’t want to draw that conclusion, because my respect for his achievements at Arsenal is pretty much limitless. I am desperate for him to find the elixir for sound defending and steely concentration. And then to pour it down the throats of his squad.

But that’s the question more and more people are posing, myself included. He’s been asked several times already this season, after bad defeats, whether he’s going to resign. That in itself is unprecedented. This is certainly the lowest point of his Arsenal tenure. Can he turn it round? He hasn’t yet.

He’ll get more time, as he should because he’s earned it, but I don’t believe for a second his position is unassailable. He’s not made of teflon. We are seventeenth in the table, have conceded 14 goals in five games and have the worst goal difference in the league. What is the club’s ambition this year – fourth place? It is of course early days, but it looks like a tall order at this moment in time. Would the club be prepared to pass on Champions League football for a season while Wenger sorts things out? They might well do. Who knows.

We don’t want for decent players. Sagna? Excellent. Mertesacker? 75 caps for one of the best national sides in the world. Szczesny? One of the most exciting young keepers I’ve seen in ages. Koscielny? Improving. Vermaelen? Class. Arteta, Wilshere, Gervinho, van Persie – the list goes on.

But taken as a unit, things are not consistently working. Haven’t been for ages. Nobody, I suspect, fears us anymore. They probably simply sniff a good opportunity.

That’s got to change.

“When we have to deliver, we can’t”

Ring any bells?

There are several dozen infuriating things about yesterday, all of them still fizzing away in my brain. It might be cathartic for me to list them but it would tip you all so far over the edge that it would be cruel.

But the thing I find most worrying of all, worse than the defeat itself, which had to happen one day, is the continuing seam of mental frailty that runs through this team. We can be brilliant, stubborn, resilient one weekend and we can collapse like a pack of cards the next. I don’t know how many times I have been forced to bring it up on the blog. Far too many.

For the fan – or for me, anyway – not knowing which Arsenal will turn up is the ultimate purgatory. Yesterday we even managed to squeeze both Arsenals into one match.

Technically, physically, these players are all good enough. But collectively there’s something missing and with dismal timing, after an almost faultless first half, the team migrated south at the first sign of a Spuds revival. As soon as Bale made it 2-1, I knew it could happen. There was an air of inevitability about it all.

It doesn’t always rear its head in a game, or even for two or three or four. But at some point it comes back, we switch off, and by the time we switch back on it’s all over.

Yesterday the players thought it was job done at half time, they saw the prize and the hula girls and the martinis and the adulation, and they must have started celebrating a bit in the head. That they switched off for a moment and conceded a goal is fairly normal. That they were unable to stop the rot is not.

Wenger talks about consistency all the time, but when the top of the table looms invitingly, we fail to show it. As he himself said, “What is worrying for me is that we had an opportunity to go to the top of the league and when we have to deliver we can’t.”

We started the season going five games before defeat. The next unbeaten run was three matches long. Then we went on a two-match unbeaten run before losing yesterday.

Despite all this, we are still in a very strong position in the league. But would you bet on us going on the kind of long run required to win it?

Or are we more likely to win three of four before succumbing once again?

Sadly, I know what my money would be on.

I maintain we are not far away. But we need to learn to concentrate, to focus 100% of the time, to cut out the errors, and we are showing no signs of doing that.