If I learned one thing from last night’s six-goal thriller against Liverpool it’s that we will never again be a sound defensive unit under Arsene Wenger.
The days of miserly, tough-tackling defending, and no-nonsense midfields are gone and will not be coming back as long as the Frenchman is in charge at the Emirates.
Arsene simply refuses to sacrifice any attacking fluidity in favour of a more cautious approach and the result, particularly in games against quality opposition, is that we either win big or take a hiding.
As I have said many times already this season, our rivals have worked out that beating Arsenal is simply a matter of pressuring them into mistakes, which will inevitably come. Jurgen Klopp, as countless others have done, tasked his team with pressing high and breaking quickly and, unsurprisingly, it worked sensationally well.
Arsene refuses, it seems, to address this issue, which has been exposed on so many occasions it beggars belief. He talks of the players being fearful and low on confidence as reasons for defensive lapses and, while partly true, the main reason is the woeful tactical setup which plays to their strengths in an attacking sense, but highlights every one of their weaknesses in defence.
The number of times the back four found itself exposed to Liverpool’s direct running and quick passing was frightening, and it was only good fortune and profligacy that prevented the visitors going in at half-time three goals to the good.
It doesn’t seem to matter if we play three, four, or five at the back, the same issues keep on cropping up and, if you accept that this team is not performing to its potential, then you have to look at flaws in the job they are being asked to do.
I still do not understand the logic of fielding Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left back – a 20-year-old, right-footed central midfielder who, while clearly talented, cannot and should not be expected to do a job in an area of the field in which we have two established internationals, one of whom now warms the bench.
Ditto playing Nacho Monreal in the heart of defence when we have three other possible replacements, including a World Cup winner. I can’t quite fathom why the manager persists with playing people out of their favoured positions and out of their comfort zones, especially in such a crucial game.
And an already suspect defence is further hamstrung by a midfield which is entirely reactive to situations, instead of proactive. There is no onus on anyone, it would seem, to sit tight, track back, get stuck in, or screen for the defence. The midfield four attacks with gay abandon, taking up positions entirely off-piste, and the team is left badly exposed as a result.
There were too many passages of play last night in which Liverpool simply swamped the midfield, stole possession and found themselves with three of four players running at the Arsenal defence, which had no cover and no chance against the pace and movement of the visitor’s front four.
Time and again observers have pointed out these flaws and they are no doubt just as obvious to Arsene and Steve Bould but it has become glaringly obvious that they have no intention of shifting the way the teams sets up to correct them.
Arsene has always been about expression and fluidity in attack first and foremost and the cost of that is defensive weakness. Every team that seeks to play on the front foot must accept a little of that, but to play the sort of high-risk football that Arsene does is near-suicidal. It is win or bust football and, this season, we have bust more times than we have won.
There is no doubt that we will score plenty more goals this season but we will also concede plenty of goals too. Against the lesser lights – the Newcastles and Huddersfields of this world – we will more likely than not get away with it. Against a better quality of opposition, however, we will find ourselves caught out far more often than we are able to get ourselves out of jail.
The days of Vieira, Bould, Adams, Keown, Gilberto and company are long gone and they simply aren’t coming back. No matter how great the yearning for a team that relishes a battle and lusts for blood and guts, this current Arsenal incarnation is not that and nor will it ever be.