A lot has changed in north London since Arsene Wenger left, yet everything seems eerily familiar under their new boss
Same old Arsenal.
They came to Bramall Lane, where the hosts had lost their last three matches, and fell down as Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United put an end to their own recent poor sequence.
It had the air of the type of game that might provide a banana skin for the Gunners in their bruised banana kit, that is if losing away from home could be described as any kind of surprise these days.
But from the moment Lys Mousset put the Blades ahead from a set-piece in the first half, it shaped up to be one of those wearyingly familiar nights for anyone connected with the club.
Under Wilder, Sheffield United have an identity, one with which they are fluent and in which they are settled. Despite moving into his second season as Arsenal’s manager, the same still cannot be said for Unai Emery and his players.
Some of the same issues persist not least that aforementioned vulnerability to conceding goals from set-pieces.
And despite the bulk of possession, Arsenal could not force enough clear cut chances to get anything from the game.
If only Nicolas Pepe could have taken that one big opportunity that crossed his path in the first half. Once Sead Kolasinac put the ball across the box, it looked inevitable that the improving Ivorian winger would send the ball home.
Instead, he hopelessly miscued it wide. Fortunes can turn on such moments and had the £72 million men netted, it might have been a very different story.
Another ball he put across for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the first half could well have ended up in the net but the Ballon d’Or nominee was just too far behind it.
A third first-half effort, a long-range strike from Granit Xhaka, had Dean Henderson occupied but it was far too speculative to really be described as a good chance.
That was the best Arsenal could muster. They owned 70 percent of the ball, near enough, but failed to do a lot with it. There was no Mesut Ozil to conjure anything either. Despite Emery saying last week that the German was training well, he was again absent from the picture altogether.
His other playmaker, Dani Ceballos, started on the bench alongside Alexandre Lacazette. There was a lack of guile about Arsenal’s midfield possession, with precious few openings to trouble the United backline.
Fifteen points from nine matches it is for Arsenal. Not a disaster by any stretch but hardly championship form either. It’s merely an existence.
These are the kinds of matches that Arsenal has to win, no matter how much credit the opposition deserves. The same goes for games against the likes of Watford, until now their worst performance of the campaign.
They have already played Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United and lost only one of those fixtures in the process, but that conceals more than it reveals.
Tottenham and Manchester United are two of the worst clubs, form-wise, in the Premier League. The other matches they’ve played, Burnley, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Bournemouth should be absolute gimmies for a club of Arsenal’s stature.
But they’re not.
They’ve had to huff and puff for most of their wins, being scarcely better or worse than in the games they’ve drawn and lost.
They appear aimless, at once susceptible to conceding and capable of decent moments in attack, but incapable of stringing out 90 minutes of good consistent football against anyone.
The last time Arsenal played a Premier League game at this ground, they lost 1-0 to a goal from a French striker. That man was Christian Nade.
For a part of that fixture, back in 2006, Phil Jagielka had to play in goal when Paddy Kenny was injured and no substitute keeper sat on the bench. He was sat among the substitutes tonight after returning from Everton but wasn’t needed as a defender – or goalkeeper for that matter.
That said, he probably could have done a stint between the sticks as United did such a good job of restricting the number of dangerous shots on goal.
Their clean sheet and goals conceded record stand among the very best in the division but this is not merely some resistive defensive force. They play decent football at the right times and in the right areas with a team of players who were in the Championship this time last year.
That’s coaching, that’s confidence, that’s progress. No evidence of any of those is currently available in the ranks of the opposition.
Perhaps Patrice Evra, a guest pundit for Monday’s match, said it best at full-time: “I’m like… where’s Arsene Wenger? And not because I am French, because it is the same.”
New manager, new players, same old Arsenal.