Arsenal's descent into darkness

The day is February 14th 2016. That morning, Arsenal fans wake up excited, nervous and anxious. Not because it is Valentines Day, but because their beloved club is about to host Leicester City, who sit top of the league.

Arsenal are 5 points back of the Premier League leaders, but a win would throw the title race wide open. Tension is palpable. The Emirates stadium is about to host one of it’s biggest game ever, if not the biggest.

Right before halftime, Jamie Vardy scores. Leicester take the lead. That feeling of despair and disapointment, all too familiar for Arsenal fans, creeps in again. Another chance blown. Another disapointing season. Then, in the second half, right before the hour mark, Danny Simpson gets a red card. Optimism is back. Arsenal have a bit more than half an hour to turn this thing around.

In the 70th minute, Theo Walcott scores. The game is on. Arsenal keep pushing, but can’t seem to find a winner. They throw everything at the Foxes, who are defending with their lives. Then, as time expires, Danny Welbeck, who had just come on and hadn’t scored a league goal in almost two years, does what all fans were begging for and heads an Ozil cross in the back of the net. The Emirates Stadium erupts in jubilation. Arsenal are now only two points back of the current leaders, with 12 games to go. This could finally be their year!

The gunners would follow that up with 2 defeats and a draw, and just like that, hope was gone. Arsenal would end the season in 2nd, 10 points behind Leicester City and with a feeling of missed opportunity. Their first Premier League title since 2004 would have to wait.

Since that famous Leicester win, everything has gone downhill in North London. They have become less and less relevant in both the Premier League and Europe. In the last three seasons, Arsenal have finished on average 28 points off the top of the Premier League, failing to qualify for Champions League on each occasion.

Results have been awful, but more worryingly, things have changed. There is something different about the club now. Arsenal used to embody class. Form is temporary, class is permanent was the saying. Now, captains tell fans to f**k off, or start strikes and ask for moves away. Maybe I am just being nostalgic. Maybe watching an entire generation of Arsenal through and through players fail to live up to expectations and leave still hurts (Walcott, Chamberlain, Gibbs, Koscielny, Giroud, Wilshere, Ramsey, etc.). Maybe that when Wenger was pushed out the door, he brought with him all signs of an identity or philosophy.

For so long, what you heard was that Arsenal had the talent to compete with anybody. They had a midfield that was capable, on their day, of controlling any game, against any opposition. What was lacking was the heart, the defensive solidity. Now, Arsenal has neither the talent nor the heart. Other than Aubameyang, not a single player would crack another Top 6 starting lineup.

Since the 2008-2009 season, Arsenal has always scored at the very least 68 goals in a season. They are on pace for 53. In that same time span, they always had a differential of at least +21. After 17 games, it currently sits at -3.

In recent years, every Arsenal fans has seen the gunners lose silly games against teams battling relegation. However, you could almost always find comfort in the fact that the team created chances, but was just unlucky. Now, sadly, the gunners have been outshot in their last 7 games, a streak that never happened under Wenger. That includes sad home performances against Brighton, Crystal Palace and Southampton.

Facts are that the Gunners are just not as good offensively. Here is a table showing the number of passes they have been completing the last two seasons, compared to what they were doing in 2017-2018, the last year under Wenger (Whoscored.com).

2017-20182018-20192019-2020
Possession %58.1056.1054.10
Passes per game619.1547.5501.1
Passes per 90 minutes
of possession
959.02878.34833.62

I will be honest, I was not expecting the difference to be so dramatic. They don’t have as much possession as before, but even then, per 90 minutes of possession, the “new” Arsenal passes the ball about 126 times less than in 2017-2018. Arsenal are now much slower in their build up, which makes it so much easier for opposing defenses to stay in shape and not allow chances. That speaks to the apparent lack of talent and quality in the current side. Not a single player on the current team can pass the ball with accuracy and speed the way Cazorla, Rosicky, Arteta or Fabregas could.

Talent is hard to find. When you find it, it is wise to do what it takes to keep it. Letting Ramsey go for free was a terrible mistake. He was Arsenal’s best midfielder, and the only one with the ability to generate offense from midfield. I would sure love to have other players, like Chamberlain or Gnabry still at the club.

What is done is done. Arsenal now have a new generation of young players, that hopefully can develop into something positive. It is their time. They might not be good enough, but we know that Mustafi, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Ozil, Sokratis and others are not good enough either. The season is lost. Might as well prepare for the next one.

Since that game on February 14th 2016, Arsenal have been going downhill. The question is, how low will they go?

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