Defeat to Aston Villa killed the momentum Arsenal had set in the Premier League. The draw against title-chasing Manchester United maintained it to a degree, and while zero points from Wolves stopped it, the manner of the defeat suggested maybe only temporarily.
Going to Villa Park and drawing a blank swiftly extinguished top four hopes and condemned Arsenal to a tenth defeat in 23 matches. That’s not top four, or even top six standard.
Losing matches had become a painfully familiar feeling even before this season. This many so soon into one Premier League season? You have to go back to the 1983/84 campaign for that.
Despite licking the wounds of another weekend of bitter disappointment, it was more palatable than, say, the reverse fixture against Villa at the Emirates. Not just numerically, but stylistically.
Arsenal are more watchable than they were and despite defeats, they are losing better
Having accrued exactly the same number of points from the equivalent fixtures played last season, any chance to praise progression may fall on deaf ears. It shouldn’t.
Compare the Arsenal team that was demolished 3-0 by the Villans to the one from Saturday and they’re chalk and cheese. Two entirely different outfits. Back then Arsenal were unwatchable, truly dire. All routes to goal were scenic detours in first gear, defensive solidity was a foreign concept only vaguely being deciphered and the reliance on opposition errors to forge openings was followed by hit and hope lumps into the box. Painful.
At Villa Park you could see clear patterns of play, interchangeability across the forward line and were it not for a poor error one minute into the match, perhaps a point to show for it.
The argument will be that this is dropping standards to un-Arsenal-like levels. Indeed it is. But if you’re in search of hope then it is that Mikel Arteta can now finally bemoan fine margins with the conviction he couldn’t last year.
The finished article is stored away under lock and key but Arsenal are following the paper trail. The resemblance of a decent football team is there. Taking advantage of periods of dominance and eradicating individual errors are the next steps.
Highlighting points tallies between Unai Emery and Arteta will probably reemerge if it hasn’t already. Yet Emery’s side was declining, Arteta’s is improving. Not in results, that needn’t be mentioned, but from front to back, unquestionably.
Being hurt by the state of Arsenal and still seeing the signs of progression are not mutually exclusive.