Arsenal’s 3-1 win at West Ham last month should have been a catapult for the team and a marker for their intentions for the rest of the season. For so long, away trips to ’lesser’ teams were to be the great undoing of Arsene Wenger’s teams. There was no life, no ambition and no drive to establish (or re-establish) themselves as big hitters in the Premier League.
The game against West Ham was impressive for a number of reasons. It saw a small, technically proficient Arsenal team beat a Sam Allardyce side with decisive and fearless attacking football. Allardyce had become one of the managers high up on the list to get the better of Arsenal over the years, but even his highly contrasting approach of the game was not enough to overcome Arsenal on the day.
An international break broke up Arsenal’s fixture at West Ham from their next league game away to Norwich, a game which the Gunners should comfortably have won. But the 3-1 win at Upton Park two weeks prior proved to be another false dawn, as Arsenal went down 1-0 to a hard-working but not totally spectacular Norwich side.
The morale boosting 5-2 thrashing of Tottenham last week should have been the game to swing the tide back in Arsenal’s favour; since the win at West Ham, Arsenal had only won once in the Premier League. In much the same way that the 5-2 win against Tottenham in February proved to be the catalyst for Arsenal’s good run of form for the rest of last season, it was expected that Saturday’s trip to Aston Villa would see similar good fortunes for Wenger’s side following the recent North London Derby.
But this Arsenal team, and many of past seasons, remain one where resting on laurels is the standard and accepted practise. The team were lifeless, uninspired and boring. There was nothing of the side who so confidently played their brand of attacking football against Tottenham, instead allowing a greatly inferior Aston Villa team to control large parts of the game and threaten on a number of occasions. The 0-0 final score was a fortunate result for Wenger and his team, yet they may still rightly receive criticism from supporters based on the performance.
Every season it’s a new Arsenal team with a new set of players, yet every season the trend remains the same. Many supporters are right to question whether Wenger is still the right man for the job, because despite the problems that remain with members of the boardroom, the manager is solely responsible for the on-pitch performances of the team.
Arsenal’s mental fragility means they’ll never have the impetus to grab a game by the neck and force a win, no matter the opposition or even personnel in the team. It seems that the team need the sun beating down on the backs, the wind in the sails and all the decisions to go in their favour to pick up results.
The fans need a lift, as any goal conceded at the Emirates Stadium is met with fear and nervous heads from the stands. Unfortunately, that mental state filters onto the pitch and affects the players, forcing even further mistakes and continuing to help elevate the levels of discontent among the supporters. It’s an endless cycle of false dawns at the club, and no one seems to know how to fix the problem.