Chelsea’s march toward the title — a stunning reversal of fortune when compared to the previous season — is looking even more inevitable thanks to yet another potential title contender’s meltdown.
With 14 games left, the Blues already have a staggering nine-point lead over their next competitor. Thanks to stumbles by Liverpool — which lost to relegation candidate Hull City — and now Arsenal, Tottenham looks like the only team with the slightest chance of catching Chelsea.
For every Gunners fan out there, each season begins with the same question: Will Arsenal blow its title chances yet again? And the answer to that question, more often than not, is yes.
I would imagine being an Arsenal fan is much like being a fan of the Washington Nationals. Both teams have the firepower, ability and burning desire to win a title, yet for some reason, both teams inevitably come up short when it counts.
It seems as though that fire suddenly burns out, leaving both teams sputtering towards the end.
Arsenal has suffered a rather unfortunate past week with losses to both Watford and Chelsea. While the defeat at the hands of the mighty Chelsea is perhaps excusable, a 2-1 loss to 10th-place Watford is not.
It was a game that was a must-win for the Gunners. A win in both matches would have narrowed the gap between Chelsea and Arsenal to just three points, instead of the 12 points that now stand between them.
Watford scored two goals in three minutes, and Arsenal was already down two goals before the 15 minutes had passed. Goalkeeper Petr ČCech was perhaps the only reason that Arsenal did not lose by a heavier score, and while Alex Iwobi was able to get a consolation goal, it looked as though Arsenal had simply been stunned into mediocrity.
In fact, Arsenal did not register a single goal for the entire first half. For a team with title-winning aspirations, that is simply unacceptable. Considering that Watford had not won in seven games, it was also highly embarrassing for Arsenal to lose this game.
Manager Arsène Wenger was unavailable for both matches due to a four-game touchline ban that he is currently serving. With the Frenchman’s contract expiring at the end of the season, questions are rightly being asked as to whether Arsenal should keep Wenger on staff.
Considering that the team has finished fourth an astonishing six times in the last 11 seasons, the answer to that question is starting to look more and more like a no.
Like the Watford game, the Gunners looked utterly lifeless against Chelsea. Once again, Arsenal was already losing before the 15th minute had passed, thanks to a Marcos Alonso goal that Wenger later criticized as illegal.
Wenger perhaps had a point: En route to heading the ball, Alonso delivered a stinging blow to the head of Hector Bellerin, causing the Arsenal defender to be substituted.
While the first goal is excusable, there is no excuse for either the second or the third. Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard was easily able to blow past three defenders on his way to scoring, leaving Cech helpless once again
Olivier Giroud’s goal at the end of the game was essentially meaningless, a poor consolation prize for a team that just saw its best hopes of winning a title get snuffed out once more.
Arsenal has now lost four of its last nine games — the same number of losses it had in all of the previous 35 games. It is a clear sign that something is going wrong in London and once again, Wenger seems incapable of fixing the problem.
Arsenal has enormous difficulties overcoming slow starts, and when teams manage to score against them within the first 15 minutes, it heightens Arsenal’s sluggishness.
Unlike Liverpool, which lacks a certain depth to its squad, Arsenal is teeming with brilliant players. There is no reason that a team with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil should be playing so poorly, but it appears that the uncertainty over the futures of the duo is affecting the entire team.
There is a very real risk that the Gunners will be unable to hang onto both players, leaving the team with a gaping hole that Wenger perhaps will not be able to fill on his own.
Arsenal faces Hull City next — the final game of Wenger’s absence — and if the team is not careful, it will find itself with a similar fate to rival Liverpool, struggling to turn around a season that once held so much promise.
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