Arsenal 2017/18: A repeated exercise in futility

Date published: Wednesday 13th December 2017 10:31

Watching the second half from the London Stadium, you wondered whether you had inadvertently taken your eye off the game and missed Arsenal score a couple of goals, such was the woeful lack of urgency and penetration. A 0-0 draw may be celebrated by David Moyes, who suddenly has West Ham believing, but it will do nothing for those Arsenal supporters who could see this slide into atrophy coming a mile off and are not enjoying the journey.

Had Arsenal won their last game by three clear goals you would assume complacency had crept in. Had Arsenal won more than two away league games this season you would assume that a goal would come. Yet there is nothing about this Arsenal team that convinces. Even the goodwill and momentum gained from north London derby victory over Tottenham has been lost on the cold December wind.

Arsenal fans will not need reminding, but their team now sits in seventh in the Premier League. “Our ambition is to win the Premier League and other major trophies in Europe,” said Stan Kroenke when announcing Arsene Wenger’s new contract at the end of May. If anyone truly did believe such bluster, more fool them. The rest of us saw through such wanton PR bullsh*t. Arsenal are a club that makes money, and that is the bottom line.

They are certainly not making friends, particularly not amongst those who travel the length and breadth of England to watch this team trip over its feet. Arsenal have taken four fewer away points than both Leicester and Watford this season and five fewer than Burnley. If you cannot sustain more than one point per game on the road then you do not deserve to finish in the top four.

If Wenger’s plan was to ignite improvement with a change of personnel from Sunday, it didn’t work. Olivier Giroud started his first league game of the season, but that only made Arsenal even more one-dimensional in attack. Time and again the ball was played into Giroud’s feet, surrounded by four players and he was expected to bring others into play. It was remarkably, troublingly, easy to defend, and yet Wenger waited until the 83rd minute to introduce his best striker. Alexis Sanchez was again anonymous, counting down the days until his contract expires.

Jack Wilshere was at least bright on his first league start for Arsenal in 19 months, his team’s best player. The passing was immaculate, but it is his driving runs forward – in contrast to Granit Xhaka – that set him apart. Yet he cannot do it alone; one central midfielder does not make an attacking unit. Around Wilshere, the passing triangles are like watching Manchester City at half-speed: Sideways, backwards, sideways, backwards, nowhere quickly.

The reality is that this is an average selection of players, a few who are good enough but unmotivated, a few who are good enough but inconsistent and a few who are motivated but unfit for purpose. For all the understandable crowing post Tottenham victory, there are more backward stumbles than forward steps. That will not change until the lights are turned out on Wenger’s reign, as sad as that is to say. It becomes more apparent with each of these odes to mediocrity.

On evenings such as this, 0-0 draws can sometimes be worse than defeats. Losses at least provoke anger, stirring reminders of why you care so much. 0-0 draws, in the freezing cold and stood miles from the pitch, only provoke apathy. Arsenal 2017/18: A repeated exercise in futility.

Peak Arsenal used to be about collapse and hope, and lurches between glory and despair, black and white. Arsenal supporters staring at the pitch on Wednesday evening could only see grey. I’m not just referring to the kits.

“Boring, boring Arsenal,” they would chant in unison during Wenger’s glory days. It’s now closer to realism than sarcasm.

Daniel Storey

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