Saturday's game was a shambles. That much is blindingly obvious. However, The team which started were basically the team which finished last year's season on a 10 game unbeaten streak. Did Aston Villa really get that much better in the close season than the team who were fighting relegation last time around? Or did Arsenal's players relax, finally believing Arsene Wengers rhetoric about how good they are, and come a cropper to the overconfidence bug? "It's only Villa, this will be a breeze!"
My answer is neither. A combination of factors exaggerated Arsenal's fall from their first 10 minutes of grace in the game. Tough tackling from Villa disconcerted the midfield, who were, (sometimes rightly), aggrieved at their treatment. Add injury to insult seemed to be the order of the day. Gibbs, and Oxlade-Chamberlain both gone before the second half, the latter replaced by a not match fit Cazorla, and then if reports are to be believed, Rosicky, and Ramsey played on with injuries sustained within the game, not to mention the particularly grim looking fall from Sagna late on.
Some of the decisions too, were "interesting", although there is an argument to say that, for the first penalty, Szczesny should've walked. Koscielny did. He has previous though, optastats posting that this is his 4th red in 89 games, and should've known better for the second card. Frustration causes rashness. Professionalism should negate that. From then on Arsenal were a man and a goal down, with players carrying injuries and chips on their shoulders.
However, none of this is the crux of the problem at the Emirates in my opinion. The problem is this : Football has moved on since Arsene Wenger established his own game changing brand at Highbury. The goalposts have moved. The entity that is Arsenal is past its time. The model still works to a point, but it reached the peak of it's parabola some time ago now and the downward curve can only be held off for a certain about of time. This season could well be it. It's like it's dead and doesn't know it yet, but realisation is dawning quickly.
The board has to change. Wenger has to change. I would postulate even the training has to change accordingly too. Arsenal's injury woes have plagued them for seasons now, and it cannot continue to be seen as just "unfortunate". 8 fit senior players after only 1 game, going into a crucial Champions League match is indefensible. Go out of the top European competition, and what is the attraction for players at Arsenal FC?
Wenger claims there are a lack of quality players available, and he is correct. Mostly because everyone else has already bought them across Europe. This could have been avoided easily, by flexing the much vaunted "new" financial muscle as soon as the transfer window opened. Arsenal can cease to be a club who always manages to turn a player into a star, and Wenger can cease to be the man who does it. It's no longer what is required within the club that Arsenal should have become from moving to the Emirates. You can buy stars now! Get used to it. Your philosophy was fabulous for the era it was constructed in, but that was then and this is now.
More pernicious though, is what happens to the players at Arsenal already, after Saturday. Assaulted by derision, confidence shattered, they may well buy in to the "not being good enough" idea themselves, especially when faced with the perception of empirical evidence from Saturday's result. Does Wenger have the skill to motivate and change at the same time, as he did last season, his job even harder as all around him have strengthened.
Since I typed this yesterday, Wenger has offered around £10million for Cabaye, rather than £30million for Felaini.
It occurs to me that Martin O'Neil is currently without a club