My favourite comedian Stewart Lee has a wonderful quote he often uses - “context is not a myth”.
While Lee utilises those words to explain how jokes can be misconstrued, I’m going to borrow them to sum up what we saw on Saturday night.
A 3-0 home defeat to last season’s runaway champions might have been viewed by fans as a signal as to how far behind the top teams we have fallen.
While it’s uncomfortable to be handed the odd heavy beating by high-flying sides that win titles, as long as we’re improving elsewhere we can eventually come to that. After all, we’ve not been completely bereft of performances against those top teams in the last couple of seasons.
So let’s layer some context into the above paragraph.
Yes Liverpool did win the title last season in a style that suggested they were about to dominate in the top two places in the league for a few years. Yet we also saw them suffer a host of injuries which completely shot their defence of the trophy to pieces.
Those injuries mainly hurt the spine of their defence and in covering there they were also drafting in players from what would have been a settled midfield.
Further context is added by noting huge absentees like Virgil van Dyke and Jordan Henderson, while to a lesser extent listing Joe Gomez and Joel Matip as joining them on the sidelines.
On paper it was the kind of Liverpool side we’d certainly settle for taking on. That’s despite their obvious riches in an attacking three which lays justifiable claims to being the best in the division.
It’s also fair to say we also had our own issues in terms of injury news Saka, Smith-Rowe, Xhaka and Luiz as individuals are often a huge miss from our line-up, as a quartet it’s a massive collective dent.
Yet our line-up featured nine of our 12 most valuable players according to the latest market. While our back four were makeshift, even more so with the injury to Tierney after the first half, the six players in front of them went for a total of £240million in their most recent transfers (which included the low ball £3million Real Madrid signed Odegaard for).
Mikel Arteta certainly wasn’t working with scraps as he tried to unlock a makeshift Reds’ defence while keeping their threatening attacking line at bay. It wouldn’t be easy but finding the net and losing narrowly might have been a bare minimum expectation from even the most demanding of Gooners.
What Arteta’s side served up, regardless of the opposition, was an absolute horror show. I don’t think there was one redeeming feature of our play. In relative terms I can probably rank it comfortably in the top ten worst home performances in my 40+ years of supporting the club.
That might sound drastic, but with the players we had on offer against that defence, to only register a goal expectation of just 0.09 is almost beyond belief.
To put that figure into context, there are only five teams posting a lower figure than that when playing Man City and Liverpool in the last three seasons. Three of those teams actually found the net though. We didn’t look as if we’d score if we’d played all Easter weekend. We had so few chances that most fans noticed as late as the second half that Liverpool keeper, Alisson, had a Freddie Mercury moustache.
While expectations as Arsenal fans have had to be downgraded during the latter Wenger years and the short tenure of Unai Emery, I think most reasonable fans are of the opinion that while we might not be able to compete with the spending power of the oil rich clubs and Manchester United, Liverpool are the kind of benchmark for sustainable transfers and knowing when to buy and sell. Their ability to spend a little more than us is down to Stan Kroenke’s reluctance to put his hand in his pockets – and admittedly that’s a big difference.
While Stan owns this club we have to set expectations this low. Yet we’re not exactly claiming poverty. Whose fault is it that Pepe was purchased for £72million yet currently features at a value of about 40% of that in even the most generous industry valuations.
Making mistakes of this magnitude will set us back as much as these poor performances. It baffles me that some were willing to remove blame from the door of Arsene Wenger as soon as he left the club, rather than realising some of the deals and contracts he lumbered us with would also set us back. He certainly can’t be blamed for Pepe though.
All things considered there really cannot be any excuse for not achieving a top seven finish with this Arsenal squad and our resources.
Serious questions would have to be asked of any Arsenal manager that fails to do that, regardless of their experience in the role. And let’s face it, seventh isn’t some wild demand!
It’s just a fair enough minimum benchmark for a boss that has so much to do in turning around this tanker and pointing it in the right direction. He’s operating with that good will and acknowledgement that he has a tough job, but still not unlocking that upward curve, even a minimal one.
Next up we face Slavia Prague in our only realistic route towards next season’s Champions League places. The Czech side are certainly no mugs and cannot be taken lightly.
Those eyeing up our next set of Premier League fixtures might still think that top seven is not a completely forlorn hope for Arteta to snatch that bare minimum that I mentioned. Even in light of Saturday’s terrible performance we’ll actually be very strong favourites for our next five league games.
Those league games start with taking on the worst team in the league, Sheffield United, away from home. It’s a fixture notable for the tide turning against Unai Emery last season.
It seems a long time ago, now but that Monday evening in October 2019 seemed to shift even the most patient fans against him.
There’s probably no context that can save Arteta fading into an Arsenal myth if he fails there in a similar fashion next Sunday.