“THAT’S not Arsenal,” said Theo Walcott after the 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace, in an apology to Gunners supporters.
But, with four Premier League losses on the bounce, and the first time Arsene Wenger has lost four consecutive away games in two decades, is it really ‘not Arsenal’ anymore?
With the Gunners now seven points away from fourth, and under threat of being gazumped by Everton for a spot in the Europa League, the defeat at Selhurst Park signals a whole new low.
It’s the first time under Wenger that the club has lost four away games on the trot, an unwanted milestone that has seen three goals leaked at Anfield, the Hawthorns, Selhurst Park and Stamford Bridge in each of those galling games - a tally not matched since 1988!
Opta Stats have come up with a perfect measure of that flaw, revealing the club have won just one of their last 38 PL games when they’ve been down at half-time, way back in September 2015 against Leicester.
“It’s been a dismal performance, there’s no doubt about it,” said former Arsenal striker Alan Smith in co-commentary of the game.
“We’ve seen the worst of Arsenal tonight. Rarely have I seen an Arsenal team show less spirit, togetherness, determination or bottle, you might say.
If statistics didn’t provide the lowest ebb, perhaps Hector Bellerin copped the lowest point.
He went to take a throw-in in front of the Arsenal faithful and was berated with chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”.
When he sought them out after full-time, he was booed, before being consoled by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as he walked away.
The side only arrived at Palace 45 minutes before kick-off, with their buss stuck in traffic until it finally got to the ground at 7.15pm, instead of the usual 1 hour and 15 minutes pre-game.
Despite 72 per cent of the ball, they only carved three shots on goal (Palace managed double that), including none in the second half. Mesut Ozil did not create a single chance across 90 minutes.
“The biggest thing would be letting the fans down tonight,” he told Sky Sports. “That’s not Arsenal at all. We bounced back well against Man City at home and West Ham, and tonight is not us.
“We’re very down in that dressing room and we’ve let the fans down too. We need to respond, and that’s only going to come from hard work on and bring it through to Monday.”
On the criticism from fans, Walcott said “everyone is entitled to their opinion”.
“We haven’t got a problem with that, we just try to do our job, we go out there and do our best we don’t try to lose the game.
“Tonight it just didn’t happen. All we can do is apologise for that performance.
“I think they just wanted it more, you could tell. You could sense that from the kick-off, and it was an uphill battle. This isn’t Arsenal in this moment in time. We thought we had got out of this patch, and we hoped we hadn’t been dragged back into it.”
Palace boss Sam Allardyce couldn’t help himself after the game, telling Sky Sports about how his use of Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend contributed to the shock win – a huge relief in the club’s survival bid.
Big Sam made no apologies for the fact that goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy passing (or lumping) the ball to Benteke was the most frequent combination of the game – 14 times.
Spare a thought for third choice goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who was deputising for Petr Cech and David Ospina, both out injured.
“I think the weaknesses of Arsenal have been defensive, because they leave [Shkodran] Mustafi and Gabriel [Paulista] really exposed.
“[Nacho] Monreal and [Hector] Bellerin play like wingers, they come inside with the centre forward, and the defenders are just left on their own, so if you can get at them you can get into the box and make chances.
“I think we had the opportunities to score goals, and I think that tonight tactically was the players being aware of what had to happen to beat Arsenal.
“The first thing was to defend correctly as an XI to keep them playing sideways and backwards. We won a lot of possession off them and won a lot of chances off them.”
“I think they’ve had a poor spell of results for the first time in years and years, and every player, top players or not, feels the frailties of that.
“The only way you take advantage, though, is by the team closing them down and frustrating them, not letting them do what they want to do.”
Also read: PL top four race reaches climax
Palace are in the midst of a horror run of fixtures, with Liverpool, Tottenham and both Manchester clubs to come. However, the axed England boss has steered the club to five wins from their last six outings.
Arsenal’s second most powerful shareholder Alisher Usmanov says the Frenchman should play a role in his own succession plan.
“I do not think that the coach alone is to be blamed for what is happening,” Usmanov told Bloomberg.
“Some continuity is needed. This includes the need to prepare a successor for Wenger, but in a very respectful way. I can suggest that Wenger himself can prepare a successor.
“I personally, unfortunately, am fully isolated from decision-making in the club. All the responsibility for the fate of the club rests with the main shareholder.”
It was without doubt one of the worst nights of Arsene Wenger’s 21 year reign and giving him another contract would push Arsenal further into decline.
Two more years of mediocrity, two more years of destroying glorious memories and two more years to take Arsenal further towards mid-table obscurity.
The travelling Arsenal fans turned on the manager, they turned on the players with chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” and it seems unthinkable that Wenger can carry on.
Arsenal effectively kissed goodbye to their top four hopes but that was the least of their worries when you lose like this against a team fighting against relegation.”
Henry Winter, writing in The Times:“Outwitted, outclassed, outdated. Time should be up for Arsène Wenger. Now Arsenal’s hardcore, their away support, have turned on their hapless manager. Now those who travel far and wide, backing the club they love, despair loudly at how it is sliding under the current regime.”
Ozil? Joke. Sanchez? Joke. Mustafi? Joke. Gabriel? Joke. The rest? A joke.
The Gunners need a new face at the wheel, an upgrade on these alloys and a fetching respray.