19 October 2021

So, Arsenal sit 12th. Time to panic?

So, we're one-fifth of the way through the Prem season, and Arsenal now sit 12th, behind the likes of Brighton, Everton, West Ham, Brentford, and Wolves. Nicking a draw at home after surging to an early lead against the likes of a Palace side shorn of Zaha will feel like two points dropped rather than one earned—and let's not dredge up the tiresome "should Arsenal have appointed Vieira over Arteta" debate yet again; the jury's going to be out on that for some time—instead, let's look at the fact that we're underperforming. That's both the good news and the bad news. This is perhaps what it feels like to get a flywheel moving: slow, undetectable progress at first, followed (it is hoped) by a sudden, strong surge forward.

The early returns were promising. We started strong against Palace, dominating the first 20 minutes or so with a well-deserved goal through Aubemayang finishing off a cross in from Pépé. From there, it looked like we might have a bit of a cakewalk. Unfortunately, Arsenal being Arsenal, we caved. First, Thomas was dispossessed in a manner not unlike Vieira being dispossesed when he faced off against his former club, Palace hitting hard on a counter with Benteke slotting past Ramsdale and again twenty minutes later, this time with Lokonga being guilty and Edouard blasting it right over Ramsdale to seize the lead. Why Lokonga was even on the pitch is an open question, given that he came on to replace the injured Saka, who was scythed down in brutal fashion by James McArthur, who kicked through Saka's planted right foot after his left had cleared the ball. How McArthur was allowed to stay on the pitch can be summed up in just two words: Mike Dean.

Still, when you only score one goal, you leave yourself open to the referee's pecadilloes and your opponent's predations. Had our optimistically offensive attacking formation—featuring Aubameyang, Pépé, Saka, and Ødegaard ahead of Partey in midfield—risen to the occasion, we would have breezed past Palace and risen to ninth in the table, just two points from fourth. Such are the vicissitudes of early-season table-watching. We're clearly right about where we should be after eight matches and about 30 minutes of quality play, 20 of those against a thoroughly discombobulated Tottenham side and about 10 against Palace. This result splits the difference between #ArtetaIn and #VieiraIn, perhaps with a slight tilt toward the latter.

Then again, to be perhaps overly optimistic, we were two individal errors from a comfortable victory. That it took those two errors for our inspired visitors to seize the lead is worth noting. Once Lacazette came on for the ineffective Ødegaard and Martinelli replaced Thomas, we looked much more incisive, direct, and determined. Lacazette has now scored five goals as a substitute since Boxing Day 2019 (since Arteta took the reigns), with three of those changing the outcome. Twice, he's found the winner, and on Monday, he salvaged a draw.

Not nearly good enough for our aspirations or our investments (emotional, financial, or otherwise), but enough to inspire something along the lines of clenched-jaw determination. Arteta clearly has his work cut out for him. "Trust the process" can only keep the critics at bay for so long. We have three eminently winnable matches coming up: a visit from Villa (and Leeds in the League Cup) with a visit to Leicester and then home to Watford. Anything less than six points from those nine as well as progress in the Cup would signify serious, serious problems for the current campaign. Let's hope that we arrive at Anfield in mid-November on a run of form that quiets these nagging doubts...