Ok. So it’s a dramatic title. But it’s a dramatic situation.
This isn’t about an injury riddled opening day defeat to one of Europe’s streakiest teams, though there was much reflected within that. It isn’t about the damaging points deficit of a poor early season run. It’s only partly about transfers.
It’s more about us, the fans. And what we expect. And perhaps have a right to expect.
While even the less angry fans out there might want to rant about our two rookie centre-halves being exposed in the post match fury, in the cold light of day, it’s not worth getting worked up about. Sure, most of us felt that a central defensive upgrade would be useful at the start of the summer, for the last three months it was not a primary area of urgency.
And then, suddenly, it was. Losing your second and third choice centre-backs when your first is already struggling for fitness is hard to legislate for. The manager, who would have been looking for a player who could nail down a shirt long term, finds that out of nowhere, he has to balance that with a more urgent need for an experienced warm body. And then what happens at Christmas when everyone is back?
A longer-term, difficult but relatively simple problem suddenly has become immediate and complex. It sounds like the wheels are in motion. But these wheels never turn as quickly as you like unless you are prepared to pay over the odds by a wide margin, or the selling team needs cash in a hurry.
What is open to more widespread and reasoned criticism is the same old chestnut, which, to my mind, was as important a factor in Sunday’s defeat to Liverpool.
Where is our centre-forward signing?
Against Liverpool we saw another abortive attempt at trying to shoehorn a wide-man who can also play as a supporting forward into the role of a lone striker, a la Podolski. With predictable results.
Most of the visitor’s best possession (and a couple of their goals) stemmed from us hopefully tossing the ball forward in the direction of Giroud/Welbeck to fight for, only to realise that we had our Chilean mighty midget up front instead.
This is not a knock on Alexis, who certainly put the effort in, but a five-foot-seven flier is not going to win too many straight balls ahead of two six-foot-three centre backs. Indeed he couldn’t even put them under sufficient physical pressure to at least disrupt their recycling of possession.
This was also an issue whenever we got the ball in wide positions and led to us both squandering good positions and being caught on the counter.
This isn’t to denigrate the scousers. Their goals were all excellent, if a little Arsenal assisted in places.
But the absence of any genuine centre forward option screamed from minute one. I even put Chuba Akpom in my Fantasy League team as I thought it would be inconceivable for him to not either start or come on when the Alexis experiment inevitably failed.
And this is where things get tricky.
Last summer I reluctantly defended the manager’s lack of transfers up front, as I recognised there were other factors in play. A lack of options, other English teams looking stronger, players reluctant to risk moves before a major tournament etc.
Now? No chance. It’s bad enough to have seen a whole summer go by with no movement in this area. But Arsenal have needed a striker since RVP wrote his open letter stabbing the club and its staff in the back. Welbeck has turned up, done ok, and then been very unlucky. But even were he fit, we’d still need a striker.
Now it’s got to the point of farce.
So we might have to overpay. Guess what? So does everyone else. So it no longer counts as an overpayment, even if sticks in the throat.
We all understand that the manager wants ‘top, top quality’, and it is of course what we should aim for. But at this stage, even some donkey like Rudy Guestede would significantly improve our goal threat.
But as I said, it’s not just about our tactical options or even our product on the pitch. It’s about expectations.
So far, this season has approached with an overwhelming sense of indifference among the Gooner faithful. Certainly, apart from the spell in the first half where we threatened to score two or three and that in the second half once Oxlade-Chamberlain made it 2-4, it was noticeably quiet.
Opening day of the season excitement was replaced for many by apathetic concern. At 4-1, the atmosphere was approaching minor hostility until our sub made it a game again. And this is day one of the season.
The natives are restless, and seeing all our rivals buy multiple players hasn’t helped. Regardless of whether it is true or not, the club projects an image of limited ambition. Gazidis’s summer pronouncements didn’t help.
Football clubs are emotional things, and fans ties become almost as strongly to do with antipathy with rivals as personal achievement. With the guy running the show giving the impression of being a disinterested ‘investor’ and the manager famously obsessed with value for money, every expression of major ambition by the other clubs at the top table seems a slap in the face for many.
The issue of ticket prices being so high doesn’t help, despite the fact that gate receipts are a relative drop in the ocean and that the inflation felt by fans is tiny compared to that of players wages and transfer fees. The drip drip drip of the Oligarch’s inflationary effect on both real costs and the costs of meeting expectations doesn’t help.
But the fact is, those expectations exist. And in many cases are achievable.
Had the previous board been willing to put their hands in their own pockets during the stadium building austerity years at the club, and helped us to remain at the top of the tree rather than watching all Wenger’s transfer targets like Ronaldo, Cech, Essien etc flourish at direct rivals, Arsenal could have built on the Invincible team to have become a genuine top European side both commercially and in a footballing sense.
Not only would this have added even more vast figures to the hundreds of millions pocketed by our ex-custodians when they sold the club, but we wouldn’t be sitting here feeling like we’ve been overtaken.
As Graeme Souness, who amusingly seems to be as frustrated by Arsenal’s underachievement as any fan, said after the game, we’ve been two or three players away for a decade, and Arsenal haven’t acted like a big club since the stadium move that was supposed to facilitate exactly that.
Despite over a decade of largely wasted opportunity, it’s not been all bad by any stretch, and it’s certainly not too late. Likewise, despite alternating misinformation from the manager and CEO, the club does have the cash to make a statement signing or two.
We’ve all witnessed the transformative impact of Bergkamp and the emotional lift everyone got from the arrival of Ozil.
Right now, this club needs something significant in terms of an incoming transfer or two, and in a hurry.
We need it for team functionality and we need it for fan optimism. Without a significant arrival in the front three, let alone in defence, I think we’ll both fall out of the top four and see the end of season departure of the manager. If the club isn’t at least seen to be trying to address the personnel issues that have be self-evident for three years, I don’t see how the manager will keep enough of a wavering and sceptical fan-base onside to prevent home games from turning into tension filled cauldrons of frustration waiting to explode on a regular basis.
And then, quite apart from the tactical needs of the team, the atmosphere at the ground will cost the team a significant number of points. And will be a horrible place for the man in charge to be. Quite apart from the fact that a negative fan-base devalues the brand and product and costs the club more money in the long run, which is about the only thing that would make Stan sit up and take note.
And I’m sure I’m not the only one who, frankly, is fed up with it feeling like a doomsday scenario, end of an era, in-fighting gloom-fest on an almost annual basis.
As ever in recent years, we have many of the components of an excellent team. With some smart additions we could reach glory. Without them, things could get very ugly very quickly.
Like I said, he’s got two weeks.