By Richard Clarke
At some point in every season, reality bites.
In the last couple of campaigns it has taken until March or April for Arsenal to buckle under the weight of their problems.
Injuries, inexperience, ill-discipline, set-pieces, lack of defenders/midfielders/attackers/goalkeepers have all been cited as reasons for the team’s failure to land a trophy. Some of the accusations have been fair, some entirely unfair but each has had a tangible solution.
However this season, the fundamental problem is far less easy to correct - inconsistency.
Arsenal’s form has been good (Man United, Blackburn, Bolton, Fenerbahce (a), Porto, Everton, West Ham), bad (Villa, Sunderland, Fulham, Hull) and ugly (West Brom, Fenerbache (h), Stoke, Kyiv).
But it has rarely been reliable.
Seven days ago, the vibe surrounding the season was euphoric. In the build-up to the trip to Man City on Saturday it is more melancholic. However, despite everything, time is still on Arsenal’s side.
Wins against Man City on Saturday and Kyiv on Tuesday would put them back on an even keel in their two major competitions. If they could tack on a third at Chelsea the following Sunday it would not only repair much of the damage done in that dispiriting defeat at home to Villa last weekend but it would also represent the very run the side needs.
However Wenger knows there is no training ground drill to give you consistency and no magic turn of phrase that can give his side a work-a-day level of accomplishment. The Frenchman realises the long road back to Premier League enlightenment will start with a single step and, amid all the criticism, his side must put their best foot forward right here, right now.
“I want us to come back to winning ways as quickly as possible and then get our level back slowly,” he said. “To speak about titles at the moment is a little bit premature. Let's win the next game and then the next one and if we do that until January then maybe we can talk about the title.
“Let's just face reality, get our sleeves rolled up, show commitment and show that we can compete.
“In two weeks we have had nearly everything - the super high and the super low. From this we know we have the potential but as well that we have not had the consistency.
“I think our season will now be linked with how well we can deal with that kind of mental problem.
"I am not worried, I am focused on the next game. I know you cannot swim against what is statistically right [in the table]. But it puts us in the situation where of course we have to win games, and we have to beat the big teams, we know that.
“We not only have to beat Man United but we have to beat Liverpool and Chelsea if we are to have a chance to come back.”
The scalp of Man City would do for now of course. Kolo Toure (calf), Cesc Fabregas (suspension), Theo Walcott (shoulder), Emmanuel Eboue (knee), Tomas Rosicky (hamstring) and Eduardo (ankle) are all absent. Robin van Persie is back after a ban. Carlos Vela and Emmanuel Adebayor are likely to be included despite arduous flights on international duty this week.
While the weight on Wenger’s shoulders is partly down to his own success, Mark Hughes has been suffering extra scrutiny purely because of the takeover at Eastlands just before the transfer deadline.
If you believe what you read, Man City have untold wealth at their disposal. But, apart from the startling acquisition of Robinho, it has had little visible effect until now. They are very mid-table and have also contracted a nasty bout of inconsistency.
“It is very early for them,” said Wenger. “In fairness [the new buyers] came in on the last day of the transfer market so you have to take it from a distance. After one and a half years you can assess the situation.
“But they have a good manager, they have the money, and that is good basic ingredients to be successful. That is why you have to take them seriously.”
An away win on Saturday would at least allow Arsenal to think about their title bid in the same light.
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