“Put them all on the transfer list,” Gary Neville joked, though it may well have passed a serious suggestion.
Arsenal were outclassed so badly by a rampant Liverpool side that it was hard to believe that this was the best that one of the country’s top sides could muster. Especially one where there seemed to be a sneaking optimism creeping in before the season started.
Arsene Wenger’s switch to a back three formation at the end of last season sparked the Gunners into some sort of new life. From there, they lost only one game until the end of the season- the final north London derby at the old White Hart Lane – and even won the FA Cup.
And whilst that wasn’t the trophy Arsenal fans were aiming for at the start of the season, the fact a seemingly unstoppable Chelsea were bested at Wembley seemed to show a steeliness we didn’t know the Gunners had.
A summer in which Arsenal seemed to stand firm against their wantaway stars Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also added to the good feeling. It seemed like the Gunners were aiming for success this season, even if that meant losing expensive assets next season on free transfers.
And added to the signings of Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac, who looked like good additions, perhaps it looked like Arsene Wenger’s side would be making a transition from the one we’ve come to know over the last decade, and one which could make a fresh start.
To go from that optimism to such despair in a week is sudden even by Arsenal’s standards.
The first game of the season showed how weak their defence could get, even if it was a makeshift back three who started against Leicester. On the plus side, the game ended in a victory, and you got the feeling that confidence would grow, and if anything it showed good character to come from 3-2 down to win with only 10 minutes to go.
Then the Stoke City defeat seemed to change things. It wasn’t just a defeat, but it was a defeat which undid the optimism in one fell swoop. If there was optimism that Wenger’s tactical switch was the precursor to a manager adapting to changed times, or that the last few months had proven there was some sort of newly reinforced character to the squad, that was all undone.
Reality set in – losing to sides like Stoke, who just show that bit more fight and determination than Wenger’s Gunners, is just what Arsenal do.
Then there was the Liverpool debacle.
But sandwiched in between was a Champions League draw which showed just how low Arsenal have sunk over the last year or two. From a team who have always been involved at this stage, to one watching on as Tottenham drew Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid.
The jokes flew in, Arsenal fans mocked their north London rivals’ tough group and derided their chances of making it into the knockout stages. But the reality is that deep down, the glamorous draw only served to underline just what the Gunners are missing out on this season.
When Arsenal fans complain about their team and their manager, most other fans tend to roll their eyes. They think it’s over the top to be upset that your club finishes in the European places every season, often plays entertaining football and sometimes win silverware. And they think it’s entitled to suggest that Arsenal should be winning titles every year. Why? What God-given right to Arsenal have to win anything?
But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that this isn’t the point. That it’s not about rights or entitlement. That instead it’s about the fact that every year Arsenal seem to do exactly the same thing and achieve exactly the same failure as a result.
No matter how much they change the packaging, it’s still the same product, and they even seem to go out of their way to trick fans into actually believing that there’ll be a difference next season. Would there literally be any point whatsoever in Arsenal Football Club’s continued existence if they didn’t at least attempt to persuade fans that it’ll be different next year?
Over £50m was spent bringing Alexandre Lacazette to the club, only for him to be left on the bench when the club – after losing a ‘smaller’ game the week previously – faced their biggest test of the season so far.
Just what was the point? And given the effort of the players, and the sheer outrage of Sky Sports’ pundits when faced with the prospect of having to actually analyse an Arsenal team who didn’t even seen to care, it’s legitimate to ask that the question.
In fact, the 3-0 defeat awarded by the league in the event of a forfeited match would look less embarrassing. Certainly better for the goal difference.
And it leaves you wondering if Neville’s joke might actually have a point. It’s flippant and it’s facetious, not at all meant in seriousness, but when a joke suggestion seems to actually make more sense than what actually happened, you have to ask just how bad things have actually become.
Because if Arsenal had indeed sold all their players, they’d have lost less badly on Sunday. And the problem isn’t so much that it’s impossible because of the rules of football, but that it’s impossible because, on that performance, no-one would buy the players.