Less than four months ago, for the second time in August, Arsenal were celebrating winning a trophy in the Wembley sunshine. On Tuesday, Mikel Arteta was fielding questions if they are in a relegation battle. "A blip," he countered.
It is quite a blip, though. Arsenal now find themselves on their worst start to a season since 1974/75, having lost four consecutive home league games for the first time since 1959. They have suffered historic reverses, with Leicester, Wolves and Burnley claiming maiden away wins at Arsenal since 1973, 1979 and 1974. On Wednesday, they host Southampton, who last took three points at Arsenal in 1987.
Arsenal may even go into it as underdogs. They have two league goals in eight games: one a penalty, the other a header from a centre-back. The supposed coup of getting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to commit to a new contract has been followed by a three-month spell when his only league goal in open play came for Burnley.
Indiscipline abounds. Nicolas Pepe and Granit Xhaka have got the most needless of red cards for violent conduct and Mohamed Elneny was lucky not to reduce them to nine men on Sunday.
As it is, Hector Bellerin, who has as many foul throws as bookings this season, joins Xhaka among the suspended. The situation with the Swiss midfielder, Arteta said, had been resolved internally.
The Spaniard, whose precocity suggested that he was a youthful candidate to join the ranks of the great managers, has instead looked part of the problem, haunted by a harrowing run of results.
He received a vote of confidence from technical director Edu, but admitted: “When you're not getting results at the end of the day it's the manager who has the maximum responsibility to get them. This football club is too big to accept this many losses in the past few weeks.”
Arteta retains the board’s support and was adamant he believes he can turn Arsenal’s fortunes around but he was more equivocal as to whether he still has the players’ backing.
Arsenal v Burnley ratings
“My feeling is yes but this is a question for them obviously,” he said. “It's impossible to have 31 happy players in the camp. I don't know any club in the world who has that.”
And Arsenal certainly don’t. Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Mesut Ozil have been omitted from the Premier League squad; the best-paid player in Arsenal’s history chirps away unhelpfully on social media. William Saliba is not in their Europa League squad; the £25 million ($33m) Frenchman, supposedly the future of their defence, still has not played a senior game.
Arsenal have denied there is a rift between Arteta and the omitted David Luiz, but Shkodran Mustafi, a stalwart in summer, has been marginalised. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, a revelation at wing-back, now finds himself near the back of the queue for midfield places. Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah’s Europa League excellence rarely earns them Premier League starts, while some senior players appear undroppable,
At least Xhaka’s ban means Arteta cannot pick him on Wednesday. Willian, who has been utterly ineffectual, may keep his place. He has become symbolic of Arsenal’s short-termism, spending in a bid to return to the Champions League but getting worse. Arteta’s misguided switch to 4-3-3 feels another poor judgment call
If he fails, though, it will not be for a lack of effort. “We have to face it being brave, fighting and no-one giving up or anything because it is no time to hide,” he said. “It’s time to put your face and your body on the line and at the moment, I’m sorry, but we have to take the bullets. You have to put your chest forward. My chest is here and hit me, guys.”