The reaction to the defeat on Saturday has been, undoubtedly, overblown. But due to the stratification of the Premier League into the Champions League teams, the UEFA Cup sides, and, well, the rest, defeats can no longer be treated in the 'c'est la vie' fashion they once were. People talk about the Premier League like it's a marathon and, in many ways, it is. But nowadays it's more like a marathon in which you have to sprint from start to finish. In the mid/late 90s you could easily afford to lose around 5 games and still probably win the league quite comfortably. Today, 2-3 defeats, at most, can cost a team its title challenge; that's why the reaction has been so strong. We've already reduced our breathing space and the season has barely begun.
And so it's important that a team sprints out the blocks if it wants to win the league. We did that last year, before we finally ran out of steam, but the start to this season has been pretty ugly. Two scrappy wins against Twente and West Brom, followed by a strange match against Fulham, one in which we dominated possession, yet could not find a rhythm to our passing, or conjure up more than a couple shots on target.
It's easy, as Little Dutch on Vital Football has pointed out in an excellent article today, to blame the usual suspects for the defeat. Eboue, despite being our best midfielder on Saturday, has been hammered, while other websites seem to blame William Gallas for the totality of our defensive failings, regardless of Almunia's inability to boss his area, or Clichy's rather lazy reaction to the shot as it went in.
Indeed, certain players seem beyond the pale when it comes to criticism.
Kolo Toure has not had a decent match for Arsenal for months. Yet, as soon as he's fit, he goes straight back into the team for Djourou. What message does that send to the young lad?
Theo seems to have lost all confidence in his ability, making stuttering runs against defenders that we know he can skin. He needs to man up, quickly, if he's going to make it.
But, for me, the arch-culprit of Arsenal's superficial early-season performances has been a player who I feel flatters to deceive all-too-often.
Robin van Persie.
Robin scores incredible goals. He has one of the most powerful shots i've seen an Arsenal player possess. He can bang free-kicks in from almost anywhere within 30 yards or so of goal.
But, to paraphrase Janet Jackson, what has he done for us lately? Against Fulham he was abject, sauntering round the pitch in a laissez-faire haze of indifference. 3 or 4 poor free-kicks were the sum of his performance.
If you're going to play badly, at least put some effort in. Denilson, despite only completing around 2 of his passes in the game, clearly broke his back trying to get things going for the side, and never hid from the ball. Robin was the polar opposite, skulking around the box, and missing the target with perhaps our best chance of the game.
My fear with Robin is that he's like some form of shadowy chancer. He turns up, scores a dazzling goal every 3 or 4 games, does very little else, then gets injured. There's not enough graft to his game at the moment, none of the energy that Dennis always brought to the table.
Maybe I'm being over-the-top in my criticism. But I feel that if he doesn't up his scoring rate, or improve his work-rate, or actually stay fit for more than half a season, his place in the first XI, if not the squad, should be questioned, especially when we have Eduardo's imminent return, and a young Carlos Vela who's impressed during pre-season.
One thing's for certain - if we don't start scoring soon it's going to be a long season.