After the North London derby win, I made the mistake of mentioning some “momentum” that Arsenal had chanced upon. With the term now looking premature, the team still appears to be inhibited by the same problem as last season, which is an inability to turn one good result into a series of good results.
With little in the way of injuries, Arsenal’s following game against Brighton should have been another opportunity to grow in confidence despite their convincing start to the season. Instead, Arsenal were lucky to walk away with a point. Regardless of Patrick Vieira’s steadily improving fortunes with Crystal Palace, a home fixture against them with no significant injuries after an international break should be relatively simple for the league’s biggest summer spenders.
Instead, after a bright start and a deserved early lead, Arsenal decided to immediately rest on their laurels and surrender their territory to Palace, and fate to the whims of Mike Dean. This kind of approach to game-state might work playing against top sides, where scoring – particularly so early – calls for some time on the back foot to weather the rebound. This wasn’t one of those such times, and given the ease at which Spurs were blown away by Arsenal’s early intensity, I can’t for the life of me understand why there wasn’t the same willingness to do it again.
With the exception of Aubameyang, there was a no semblance of unity in how Arsenal played out of possession (a position they something often found themselves in). The captain led by example, tirelessly pressing from the tip of the spear, which is exactly what you want him to do be doing – even if there’s some debate as to whether that’s appropriate if we want to prolong his goal-scoring ability. He’d already done his job anyway, popping up at the back-post after Pépé forced Guaita into action.
Instead, the press so often failed because it was too passive and too disinterested. This will sound familiar and more worryingly, appears to be by design rather than individual indifference.
It was more grim viewing and to add insult to injury, Bukayo Saka was injured after a callous and very deliberate challenge from behind that conveniently went unnoticed by both Mike Dean and the blind, old dogs in the VAR booth. The more you watch it, the angrier you get and the only consolation at this point would be for McArthur to land himself a lengthy ban although that doesn’t do Arsenal much good. He should have seen a straight red and he also conveniently avoided an earlier booking after a blatant professional foul. I’ve already made my position on Mike Dean perfectly clear; the man continues to steal a living.
There’s also a case to be made that Palace’s second came from a foul rather than a legitimate interception and while Arsenal shouldn’t have been naive enough to get caught out again in the same manner as the first, they can still feel aggrieved.
While frustrating, none of this should really matter. It pales in comparison to the frustration I feel when time and again, I watch my team struggle at home against far inferior opposition. Arteta has no excuses and no distractions this season and Arsenal’s trajectory is currently heading on the same course, the same problems persisting with different players.
Thomas Partey had another night to forget and despite coming close on one occasion, continues to be wasteful in front of goal with his first Arsenal goal looking more and more like an incurable itch. Odegaard looked displaced on the left side of the midfield and this wasn’t the first time we’ve seen him struggle there. Smith Rowe failed to find the right pass when Pépé was in acres of space. Ben White saw it fit to back off until Odsonne Edouard was in a prime shooting position. Arsenal’s man of the match only played 25 minutes and showed more fight than every other player out there besides Aubameyang. Even his injury-time equaliser was widely scorned for the unbefitting “over-celebration”.
Arsenal seem at odds as to what their level actually is, and as much as I like Lacazette and his attitude when he came on, there is still grounds for cynicism because this isn’t the first time last-gasp equalisers against teams we should be beating have seen knee slides and jubilation. I don’t like to revel in the doom and gloom that this kind of cynicism breeds but when you take a step back, it really does take the shine away. When there is so little to cheer about on such a consistent basis, it’s easy to get carried away when the sun does briefly shine but it’s like butter scraped over too little bread (this conveniently applies to both fan enjoyment and points on the board). Arsenal are constantly scraping the “joy barrel” for dregs and the league for points, creaking through with 1-0 wins against Burnley and Norwich, drawing with Brighton and Crystal Palace and getting routinely smashed by our old rivals, there’s only so much you can take before you end up just accepting your new place in the pecking order.