Arsene Wenger was left perplexed after watching his Arsenal side deliver two Jekyll and Hyde displays in their recent Premier League defeats by Manchester City and Chelsea.
But a closer look at the finer details of the Gunners’ season to date suggests they really should have come as no surprise to the Frenchman.
Both games saw the Gunners trailing 2-0 at half-time after lacklustre first-half performances, only to come out fighting and deliver vastly improved showings in the final 45 minutes.
Led by the inspirational Jack Wilshere, Arsenal were on top for much of the second period against City, despite losing Laurent Koscielny to a needless red card after just ten minutes.
However, it was a case of too little, too late as early strikes from James Milner and Edin Dzeko – who also missed the resulting penalty from Koscielny’s dismissal – gave the champions a 2-0 win at the Emirates.
Wenger seemed at a loss to explain the “timid” start made by his players, but just seven days later, it was a case of déjà vu in their equally crucial clash with Chelsea.
Aside from an excellent Olivier Giroud chance at 0-0 – which the former Montpellier man blazed wide – Arsenal simply did not show up in the first half at Stamford Bridge.
Their pressing was non-existent and with the amount of room the Blues’ midfield maestros were given to weave their magic, goals from Juan Mata and Frank Lampard, who scored from the spot, were the least the hosts deserved at the interval.
And yet once again, Arsenal came out for the restart with renewed purpose.
Theo Walcott reduced the arrears on the hour with the type of incisive off-the-ball run and clinical finish that he is now delivering with increasing regularity, underlining why – in this writer’s opinion at least – Gunners fans should be delighted that he signed a new contract earlier this month.
Walcott’s strike was fully merited as the visitors dominated proceedings after half-time, aside from the occasional menacing Chelsea counter-attack, but they were unable to convert their superiority into an equaliser.
It is tough to pinpoint the exact causes of the wild contrast in those two Arsenal performances before and after the interval (that’s an article for another day), but whatever Wenger is saying to his players at half-time is clearly working and he would no doubt characterise them as the exception rather than the rule.
However, the truth is far more worrying for the Frenchman, because statistics show that the insipid first-half displays against City and Chelsea are actually symptomatic of a wider malaise.
A Premier League table based purely on results if games finished after 45 minutes reveals Arsenal languishing in 12th place, just four points above the relegation zone and 19 points behind leaders Manchester United.
By contrast, the Gunners sit a far healthier third in the second-half results table, with the fewest losses (two in 22 games) and the least goals conceded (ten in 22 games) of any team in the division.
Indeed, the north Londoners have picked up 17 more points in a hypothetical first-half league than they have accumulated in the post-interval format.
With this data taken into consideration, punters could be forgiven for reasonably expecting more of the same when West Ham pitch up at the Emirates on Wednesday.
Sam Allardyce has traditionally delighted in getting his teams to prey on Arsenal’s vulnerabilities down the years and if the hosts have another nervy start after those damaging back-to-back defeats, taking a chance on the Hammers to lead at the interval could pay off handsomely at 11/2.
A word of warning here, though: the Gunners’ poor first-half record is largely down to their propensity for being involved in games that are all square at half-time.
Arsenal have drawn 12 of their 22 opening periods, so perhaps the 6/4 on the scores being level at the break is the smarter move.
By the same token, their impressive points haul in the second-half table suggests that a price of 18/25 on Wenger’s men winning the final 45 minutes is where the heaviest investment is likely to be directed.
And extending that theory, draw/Arsenal in the half-time/full-time market – a bet which would have paid out in the Gunners’ most recent outing at the Emirates last Wednesday against Swansea City – looks another enticing option at 17/5.
But whichever way it pans out, Wenger will be praying that his men can win their key game in hand on their rivals and close the gap to a certain fourth-placed team from up the Seven Sisters Road to just four points.