A self-imposed media lockdown following the 6-0 thrashing away to Chelsea on the weekend gave the impression that Arsenal would do their talking on the pitch, that there was nothing that could be said to spin an inexcusable performance away to a title rival.
Apart from the obligatory comment or two from Arsene Wenger and vice-captain Mikel Arteta, there was little coming out of the club. For once, perhaps, there would be a genuine response and a salvage of confidence ahead of an almost certain loss at home to Manchester City this Saturday.
The fact that Arsenal looked bereft of ideas, lacked any tactical instruction and went a goal down inside the first 12 minutes against Swansea on Tuesday night, only to end up with a single point against a team struggling against the tide in the Premier League, is evidence enough that Wenger simply has nothing more to offer this club; from an on-field perspective, at least.
We’ve seen it before. Flip through recordings of past seasons around this time of the year and the story is exactly the same. Arsenal crumble because there is no plan. There is no plan to retain the fitness of key players; there is no plan to strengthen when an opportunity rolls around midway through the season; there is no plan even against the most lowly and unthreatening of opposition.
Arsenal were described as a shambles on Saturday lunchtime against Chelsea – that description was aimed at the defence, but it most certainly applies to all levels of the club. I wrote at the start of the week that games like the loss at Stamford Bridge offer the reality of where Arsenal are at this time, and where they’ve been for much of the past eight or so years. Can there be much of an argument against that? This is a team who regularly capitulates in embarrassing fashion against the biggest teams in the country and across Europe; it’s to such an extent that no one can seriously expect anything other than a loss to City this weekend.
Wenger has refrained from signing a new contract with the club. If he’s holding off to see how this season pans out, then it’s the right decision. But he must ask himself what more he alone can do. He must ask that question and answer it because he alone is responsible for the club.
He’s unwilling to delegate jobs of importance to others. The transfer front is directed by him. The fact that there has been such little progress on the pitch, despite new arrivals and the outgoing of deadwood players, shows that he makes the final decision on how things play out.
Whenever this stage of the season rolls around for Arsenal, people who want to defend Wenger – which is fine – consistently point to one of two things: he deserves respect, and who would Arsenal replace him with. The first is goes without saying. But skewing respect with an inability to criticise will help to ensure that very little progress is made with the football side of the club. The other point, questioning who could replace him, is idiotic, as if to imply the club would implode if a new figure arrived to manage the team.
The draw to Swansea, which felt like a loss when looking at how much closer Arsenal will be to fifth place than first come the end of this weekend’s results, shows that nothing can change with Wenger at the helm.
Never before has a team been so reliant on confidence, susceptible to self-destruction upon the smallest setback. This has been the same of Arsenal regardless of which players are on the pitch. And the current makeup of the squad certainly doesn’t lack experience.