There is no way of dressing this up, so we might as well cut to the chase – Arsenal were so bad against Manchester United at the weekend it was barely believable.
As poor performances go against a team that you still consider to be a rival, that took some beating and it was a display that made everyone in football sit up and take notice for all the wrong reasons.
Devoid of any ideas going forward and a shambles at the back (how on earth do Arsenal boast the best defence in the Premier League?), the Gunners were beaten far, far more convincingly than the 2-1 scoreline suggests and it is hard to believe that this was a match between two sides who used to fight it out – literally – for the league title just a few years ago.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson was bemused by it all, with the United manager looking so crestfallen afterwards that if you didn’t know any better, you’d have sworn he had just lost the match. He described the game as ‘strange’, noting that it ‘lacked the intensity’ of prior encounters between the two sides, but what he was really getting at was he couldn’t believe how little fight Arsenal put up.
He wasn’t the only one, and it was one of those moments to give the ‘In Arsene We Trust’ contingent food for thought. It was a truly inept display in every department, showing just how big the gap between the sides really is and providing a reminder, as Arsenal resume their Champions League campaign on Tuesday against Schalke, that the Gunners’ participation in next year’s tournament is far from assured.
Arsenal have graced Europe’s top table for 16 consecutive seasons (or should that be 16 trophy-winning years on the trot, Arsene?) but finishing fourth again is the limit of the Gunners’ ambitions this year and they should be thankful that Tottenham Hotspur don’t look too comfortable under Andre Villas-Boas, Everton’s squad looks too small and Newcastle are yet to hit the heights of last season.
It has been seven-and-a-half long years since the Gunners lifted silverware and you would not back them to be doing so this year. Certainly not in the Premier League and probably not in the Champions League either, despite being second in Group B and looking good to qualify for the last 16 with the mediocre Montpellier and Olympiakos also in the section.
But they trail Tuesday’s opponents Schalke by one point and their trip to Germany is of vital importance given that Arsenal will not want to finish second and face the prospect of meeting the better sides in the last 16. The Germans are the favourites at 4/5 to repeat their victory over Arsenal at the Emirates two weeks ago, with the draw at 29/10 and the Gunners at the same price, and even at odds-on I want to be on the side of Schalke here.
The Germans showed in the 2-0 victory in London that they are a better side than Arsenal and on home turf, they can prove it again. Huub Stevens’ side were superior to the Gunners all over the pitch two weeks ago and at 4/5 they have to be backed to repeat the trick.
Schalke are currently second in the Bundesliga behind Bayern Munich and have been incredibly consistent. Before a 3-2 reverse at Hoffenheim at the weekend, Schalke had won six on the bounce, which included that win over Arsenal, as well as a victory at Borussia Dortmund.
At the Veltins-Arena, Stevens’ men have won four and lost one (to Bayern) of their five league games, conceding just three goals, and they look a fine bet to keep up their good home record.
Besides, you just can’t back Arsenal against anyone at the moment. Wenger’s side have lost three of their last five and a laboured 1-0 win at home to Queens Park Rangers and a 7-5 win after extra-time against Reading in the Capital One Cup don’t convince me that is a decent Arsenal outfit.
A couple of noticeable exceptions apart, they are struggling to score goals: the Gunners have struck 15 times in the league, but six of those came against Southampton, and nine goals in nine games shows that Robin van Persie has not been adequately replaced.
Arsenal have lost eight of their last 13 away matches in the Champions League and even at odds-on, I like the look of Schalke making it nine from 14 on Tuesday.