What a miserable day. Chelsea win at a canter, United show us how to hold on to a 4-3 lead in the dying seconds, and we lose to Stoke, without any fight to speak of. And to think with five minutes to go on Wednesday night, things were beginning to look quite rosy.
Now, I should say at this point that I’m an optimist to the last. If there are mathematical possibilities of success, I convince myself they can happen, and even if there are seconds left in a game, it is always enough time to retrieve any situation. Even today, playing with nine men, and looking about as threatening as a kitten, I was sure we could at least grab a draw in the dying seconds.
But even as a persistent optimist, I have to admit we’re not in the title hunt this season. We may shortly be nine points off the pace after eleven games in which the best side we’ve played has been Everton. The eight teams we are yet to face include United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Villa, and Man City, and the only side outside the top half we haven’t played are a dangerous Wigan. After the friendly start to the season we’ve had, we should be in the same position as this time last year.
But we’re not, and the complete lack of anything positive from today’s game tells us that we’re just not good enough at the moment. Once again, we had four central midfielders and no wingers, and while the future might be wonderfully bright (and it is), the present feels a bit gloomy. We can still challenge for honours, but the Premiership won’t be one of them. Too many flat performances have already seen to that, because if you’re trying to claim that you can still compete ‘as long as you beat the big four in all six clashes’, and it’s only November 1, you’re in trouble.
And Wenger isn’t stupid enough not to realise it. The fact that so many midfielders came out after the end of the transfer window, claiming that Arsenal tried to sign them, tells you that Wenger knows where the weaknesses are, he just wasn’t able to correct them in time. Of course some of those claims will be agent fuelled, but there is rarely smoke without fire and surely even Wenger would admit that we’re short in that department, certainly when we talk about the here and now, rather than the potential.
Perhaps the admission of another transitional season will allow some of the incredibly talented kids to get even more experience than expected this season, and maybe in the long run that will be rewarded. But right now, it really is painful.
Even the season’s bright sparks are struggling. Cesc looks exhausted, unsurprising given the ridiculous pressure on him (surely burnout is a real danger?), and Walcott now looks badly injured.
Don’t worry, I’ll be positive in a couple of days, probably because attention will turn to the Champions League, and we’re doing fine there, but even my usual optimism won’t be convincing me we’re in the title hunt. Because we aren’t. And that isn’t something I say lightly.
I will say one more thing, and that’s to all the 606 callers who now want Wenger out. Let’s make this clear – we would not be as big a club without him, and like many things in life, we probably won’t realise how good he is until he’s gone. I for one am hoping that day is a long way away, because with him in charge I can at least be optimistic about the future.