10 years on from the great ‘Invincibles’ side and Arsenal fans had begun to let themselves believe again. But their predicted season decline is underway, and they’re going to have to go some to stymie it. The doubters have been out in force all season, and following this weekend’s demoralising 1-0 loss at the hands of Stoke their voices are as strong as ever.
With Chelsea and Liverpool cruising to Premier League victories and the wayward Roberto Soldado giving Spurs three points, Arsenal find themselves desperately clinging to the coat-tails of those just above. But much worse, they hang over the Thursday night abyss as the Spurs sharks snap at their dangling nether regions. One more slip-up, and they’ll be within biting range.
The general consensus is that Arsenal crumble towards the end of the season. Their record over the past two seasons would put this strongly into disrepute. 2012-13 saw them pick up 26 out of a possible 30 points to pip Spurs to fourth place while in 2011-12 they put a run together to overtake their North London rivals into third place.
Arsene Wenger has maintained all season that the spirit within the squad is strong enough to see them through the toughest of times. It’s often said that the measure of a great side is how they respond to adversity. So far, if we are to accept this, Arsenal have proven themselves. The team went on a nine-game unbeaten run following the opening day defeat at home to Villa. They responded to an away loss at Old Trafford by beating an in-form Southampton side. And after a 6-3 loss to Manchester City they went on an eight-game league run, winning six. So far so good right?
The team has struggled to respond since THAT day at Anfield. The inability to beat what is probably the worst Manchester United side in Premier League history was disheartening. But the impotence of the defeat at Stoke this weekend was a real low point. Points that, despite history telling us otherwise, Arsenal should and need to be winning were allowed to drift away without a hint of fight.
When it comes to the crunch Wenger’s teams have a history of crumbling. February 2008 saw Arsenal placed a solid five points clear. Following a 2-2 draw against Birmingham, famous for Eduardo’s horrific leg-break, the Gunners went a further four games without victory and essentially waved goodbye to their title dreams.
In 2010 they once again self-combusted, seeing themselves slip from within touching distance of leaders Chelsea in March to 11 points back come May.
In 2011, the Gunners won just three of their last 11 Premier League fixtures after their last-minute defeat to Birmingham City in the League Cup final. Having once more been within touching distance of the leaders at the start of March they once again found themselves falling away without a trace. Beginning to see a pattern?
Since losing to Liverpool, Arsenal have drawn, won and lost. From being at their their slick, free-flowing, dominant best against Sunderland they quickly shifted to their impotent and one-dimensional worst away to Stoke.
The rot is beginning to set in. Mesut Ozil is struggling to recapture the form of his first months at the Emirates. Olivier Giroud hasn’t managed to accrue the number of goals a Premier League-winning side would like, nor has he managed to stamp his mark physically on games as he did in the early months of the season. Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey, the club’s next best goalscorers have been absent.
With away fixtures at Tottenham and Chelsea, followed up by a key home tie against the newly-crowned Capital One Cup winners Manchester City, the Gunners have a crucial month ahead. Sadly for Arsenal fans, they don’t boast a great record against the very best. Arsenal haven’t won at White Hart Lane in the league since 2007 and have yet to defeat a Mourinho side.
This weekend coming they have a pivotal FA Cup quarter-final against Everton side who have proven at times to be tricky for the top dogs this season. Lose that and their bouncebackability won’t have a greater test than what lies ahead. Wenger may dispute the notion that Arsenal finish badly, but when it comes to the crunch in a title race, they inevitably come up short.