This week has been a long time in coming for Arsenal, because seven years ago West Ham offered them a glimpse of their future should they fail to take another path.
Watching Arsenal struggle against West Ham on Wednesday night, I was reminded of a game against the same opposition in 2010.
Arsenal hosted the Hammers at the Emirates and were one-nil winners, but at the end of the game I wrote a scathing match report.
I criticised Arsenal’s ability to break down a side that sat deep. I highlighted the frustration that comes with watching your side pass, pass, pass yet never get anywhere.
I spoke, at length, about how Arsenal needed to take heed of that performance and how, if they didn’t address the issues that were so glaringly obvious in that game they were going to be in big trouble.
I’m sure I mentioned that it was unlikely we could rely on Alex Song to come up with a winner two minutes from the end of the game on regular basis, completely unaware that two years later he would ruin his career by moving to Barcelona, and would never be relied on by anyone again anywhere for anything.
At the time, I received untold levels of abuse for that article. Arsenal had won and I didn’t know what the f**k I was talking about. In fact, I probably only remember that nothing game because of the levels of abuse I received for my reaction after the match, so out of proportion was it to what I was saying.
But that was a different time. It was a time when people still believed in Arsenal and, perhaps more importantly, Arsene Wenger.
I’d link to the article if a disaster server move hadn’t trashed all our content from that time, but the report itself isn’t really relevant. The fact that the issues that afflicted Arsenal against West Ham this week, and Southampton a few days before, are exactly the same some seven years later, is.
The team that late October day was completely different to the one that struggled at the London Stadium in December, 2017. Only Laurent Koscielny started both games. Theo Walcott, who was on the bench in 2010, is the only other player still at the club.
When you look at the starting XI in 2010 (Fabianksi, Koscielny, Sagna, Squillaci, Clichy, Denilson, Fabregas, Nasri, Song, Arshavin, Chamakh, subs used Walcott, Bendtner, Eboue) it’s hard not to feel that the 2017 vintage is a far superior one. Apart from Cesc, and perhaps Nasri, who from that 2010 team would start for Arsenal now?
Yet the same problems persist.
In 2010, West Ham were rooted to the bottom of the table when we played them in October, and they can hardly be said to be doing much better this season, sitting, as they do, just two points above the foot.
Arsenal’s win in 2010 kept them second, five points behind Chelsea. On Wednesday night, six weeks deeper into the season than that first game, Arsenal’s point saw them seventh with the league leaders an embarrassing 19 points ahead.
If that doesn’t highlight how far Arsenal have fallen away from the top of the pack since that warning was served up seven years ago, nothing will.
I spoke in 2010 about the problem Arsenal seemed to have when playing against teams that weren’t designated ‘top’. How motivation always seemed to be a problem, and how the arrogance that ran through the side, that saw them not bother as much against the smaller teams as they did against the Uniteds and Tottenhams, was a massive issue.
Now, I regularly joke that Arsenal offer some sort of care in the community scheme that sees them obliged to give a struggling team a helping hand.
Sure, this time, Chelsea got there first with their charitable actions – it is the holiday season after all – but Arsenal could not help but build on what Chelsea had done before, and give the previously hapless Hammers another confidence boost.
In 2010 we blamed Denilson’s crablike tendencies. We criticised Chamakh’s hair, Bentdner’s ego, Eboue’s idiocy, Squillaci’s rubbishness, Fabianski’s flappy hands, Arshavin’s laziness, and Laurent Koscielny’s rawness.
But the truth is, that side kept pace with ease compared to our current crop. Individual errors were fewer, but they were starting to creep in. The ability to be distracted like a kid with ADHD in a hall of mirrors was only starting to shine through.
What is telling is that in 2010, on this date, Arsenal were in second place with 32 points, ahead of City on goal difference and two behind United at the top as Chelsea faltered. Skip forward seven years and we are still performing around the same level.
We have 30 points from the same number of games played (17). City, meanwhile, who were taken over by Sheikh Mansour in 2008, are some 17 points better off than they were in 2010. Liverpool are nine, United, Tottenham and Chelsea four.
Arsenal have not really been getting much worse, we just haven’t managed to keep pace with the teams around us that are getting better.
And that’s no surprise.
Of course, City’s level of investment in their squad in those early years goes a long way to explaining why they have surged so much. There is an argument (for another day) that they have actually been underperforming. But there’s no denying they have been driving forward while Arsenal, with Arsene Wenger at the helm, have been driving in circles.
Arsenal, as a club, have been lost for the past seven years.
They’ve lost their sense of direction. Ambition that had to be put on hold temporarily while the stadium was repaid led to a new habit forming where mediocrity was praised because it secured the bottom line.
Standards were lowered because finances dictated they had to be and Arsene Wenger had to transform himself from a manager who won titles to a manager forced to squeeze every drop from average players to secure the Champions League cash windfall every season.
With the signing of Mesut Ozil, the shackles were released and we asked a 63-year-old Wenger to switch for a third time. Spend freely, Arsene, build us a team of superstars again!
In the four years since, Wenger has shown that he isn’t able to reinvent himself one final time and there is no shame in that.
Where the shame lies is in failing to recognise he cannot change again and allowing the car to keep going in circles until the wheels fall off completely.