Arsenal’s performance in defeat at Brighton, particularly in the first half, hinted at problems so deep that the nadir may be some way away — and supporters in north London should prepare themselves for worse.
This was the first time since 2002 that an Arsene Wenger side had lost four games in a row and will inevitably lead to further calls for the Frenchman to quit.
Sadly, however, Wenger’s position at the helm is only one of the problems Arsenal must cope with and it may actually be the easiest one to solve. The lack of identity of his team, the lack of fight and leadership in its ranks, the number of passengers it carries in the squad and the lack of vision at board level are far deeper issues that may take years to put right.
Could anyone watching the way Arsenal collapsed in the first half at the Amex, undone by a simple high press and a 34-year-old veteran striker worth less than Mesut Ozil’s right boot, really say with any confidence that it cannot get any worse? The reality is that it can — and probably will.
When you look at how long it has taken other clubs to recover from the end of an era — Liverpool, Man United, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest — then the job facing the board at Arsenal is a daunting one.
They cannot afford a David Moyes style mistake when replacing Wenger and they cannot follow Liverpool’s lead by failing to properly to overhaul a squad which has come to the end of its natural life.
There were players on the pitch for Arsenal against Brighton who have had so many chances; Alex Iwobi, Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka, Calum Chambers. You can add in the absent Aaron Ramsey who, speculation indicates they are willing to sell before he reaches the final year of his contract. How many of those players can really be retained as the backbone of Arsenal in years to come, when Wenger is gone and a new regime is in place? The reality is there is serious surgery to be done.
Arsenal’s next match is a trip to AC Milan for what is becoming a critical Europa League tie and despite a second-half fightback on the south coast it is hard to see how they can possibly go there and turn their season around. According to several leaked accounts, the Arsenal players showed they cared in midweek by holding a crisis meeting in which they laid everything bare in a bid to halt their recent slide.
Koscielny, it is said, was in tears during that meeting as he described how his children had asked why Arsenal are so bad.
And yet it was Koscielny who gave the ball away for Brighton’s second goal and who produced a poor performance which contributed to his team’s defeat. What hope this week that another inquisition can change things more effectively?
There was a big contrast at the Amex when the final whistle blew and Arsenal’s deflated players trudged off the pitch, Ozil throwing his gloves to the floor in frustration while Brighton’s squad milked the applause of their fans.
As Glenn Murray and co left the field, Brighton’s ballboys and girls formed an impromptu guard of honour to applaud them, receiving high-fives from each player in return. It was a symbol of the togetherness Arsenal have lost and which may take years to rediscover.