Whilst trying to find something to occupy myself during the 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough, as the sight of an away team putting ten men behind the ball and digging a trench in front of their own penalty box for the 100th time lulled me to sleep, the same thought kept popping up in my head;
‘I’ve seen this Arsenal film before.’
It wasn’t just the game itself that sparked that thought though, it was the general mood around the club as well.
This was an Arsenal team, in the middle of October, in the midst of a good run, struggling to get a result against a lower-table side desperate to keep a clean sheet.
The October international break is Arsenal’s kryptonite, any proximity to it leaves us looking completely wrecked.
But it’s not just on the pitch that things seemed similar.
We’re all in the midst of a swell of confidence at the moment, primarily because of Arsenal’s position in the league table. It’s hard to be too pessimistic when you’re joint top of the league after all.
But we’ve seen this Arsenal film before too……
After nine games this season, Arsenal have won six, drawn two and lost one.
After nine games last season, Arsenal had won six, drawn one and lost two.
In 2013-14, after nine games, Arsenal had won seven, drawn one and lost one.
Even in 2014-15, Arsenal only lost one game out of the first nine, but they drew five times in that period.
For the last few seasons, Arsenal have always started strong, then faded when injuries took their toll on a small squad.
With everyone fit and healthy, Arsenal can definitely mount a title challenge. It’s when the first one or two key players go down that things start to falter a bit, and in all of the last three seasons, injuries have wrecked a good start.
Title-winning sides manage to get at least 30 games from all of their best players, and Arsenal haven’t managed that since 2009.
So, are we indeed seeing the same Arsenal film as last year, or the year before, or the year before that?
Yes and no.
It’s very easy to think ‘Here we go again!’ when Arsenal start dropping points at home and players get injured, but over the last few years, the players that were getting injured were absolutely integral to the way we play.
This year, that isn’t the case. Apart from Santi Cazorla having to rest his Achilles, all of our injuries have occurred to players we can live without for a short period of time.
Losing Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck, Lucas Perez, Francis Coquelin and Per Mertesacker to injury does hurt, but for the first time since 2004, Arsenal have the squad to cope.
It’s only when the elite players in our squad miss time are we affected.
Arsenal have failed to win three Premier League games this season, and Mesut Özil, Shkodran Mustafi and Cazorla haven’t started in two of them. When Arsenal plays its best team, it’s a match for anyone.
That’s why I’m not too concerned about Arsenal’s recent run of shaky performances.
We’ve played two Premier League teams that employed the same tactic, that being to sit back and play a long ball to a speedy right-winger whenever there was a chance to do so.
Nacho Monreal has had the shakiest month of his Arsenal career, it can only be a matter of time before he regains his form. He’s too good to decline this far, this quickly.
Also, we’ve looked at our weakest when we’ve lacked someone in the middle of the park to control the tempo of the game. Losing Granit Xhaka in the manner that we did was just plain unfortunate, if the punishments given to tackles of a similar nature are anything to go by. With him gone, and Ramsey and Cazorla on the injury table, then it’s easier to defend against us. But with Ramsey and Xhaka due back after the Sunderland game on Saturday, all should be well there again.
Instead of there being long gaps between spells of good form, Arsenal should find it far easier to break out of spells of poor form, simply because of the amount of good players they have to choose from this time around.
Instead of having to wait months for Cazorla or Özil to return from injury, it might only be a week or two before someone almost as good steps in. You don’t need 38 games from your best eleven players, but 30 from your best sixteen or seventeen will probably win you the league with a squad like Arsenal’s.
When I say Arsenal are like a film we’ve seen before, it’s more of a trilogy than a stand-alone film.
Arsenal 2003-2004 is Die Hard, aka the greatest Christmas film ever made. Great plot, great cast, great ending. Wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Arsenal 2004-2015 is Die Hard 2. Most of the actors you like are back, but not all of them. The plot is ok, but could definitely be worked on. (Yes, Nicklas Bendtner is a perfect representation of the guns that fire blanks halfway through the film.) The ending is fine, but was it worth the hassle of watching the previous two and a bit hours? Barely.
Arsenal 2016 has the potential to be Die Hard 3. The film brought in superstar actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons, we have Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez.
The film has a villain that transports all of a city’s gold into a big building in plain sight of everyone, we have Stan Kroenke. The film has multiple riddles that need solving in great haste, we have ‘Where the f*** can we play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?’
All that remains to be seen is if Arsene Wenger’s zip-up jacket can hold up as well as Bruce Willis’ white vest, or will it be us that are in desperate need of aspirin at the end of the season?