In many ways, Tuesday night’s match against Bournemouth was a microcosm of Arsenal’s last twelve or so years.
Or, to probably be more accurate about it, the last twenty minutes were.
3-0 down and faced with the prospect of being humiliated at the Vitality Stadium, only then did the visitors pull their socks up and actually start playing. They escaped Den Court with a point, and the players did what Arsenal players tend to do at that point – celebrate mediocrity. Another point earned towards the comfort blanket of fourth place.
It’s not so much the point itself that is the problem – there are, after all, 18 games remaining and the title landscape could shift significantly in that time – but the reaction jarringly suggests that they think this was good enough, that not being destroyed by Bournemouth and leaving with a point is something to be celebrated.
Upon scoring the late equaliser, Olivier Giroud ran away carrying out his scorpion kick-inspired dance routine rather than planting the ball on the centre circle and concentrating on getting a winner. Not to pick on Giroud, because the suspicion is that a lot of that Arsenal squad would have done the same thing, but Alexis Sánchez wouldn’t have.
No player from Man United, Man City, Liverpool, Tottenham or Chelsea would have, because the respective managers involved wouldn’t have allowed it.
Arsene Wenger spoke of “passing a mental test” after the game, paying tribute to the side’s character. True resilience would have been making one final effort to win after the equaliser – the end result might have been the same but settling for a 3-3 draw when the comeback wasn’t over yet should never have been an option.
Sky Sports asked Aaron Ramsey in a post-match interview, “what kind of message does this send to the rest of the league?” He was obviously referring to the three-goal comeback but the rest of the league, the rest of the top six in particular, can learn something from the entire game.
One player who did seem to care, however, was Alexis Sánchez. The Chilean international looked visibly frustrated for the majority of the match and was in no mood to acknowledge the point when they would have been expected to claim all three beforehand.
Nights like Tuesday could speed up his departure from the Emirates. Money is one thing, but above all else Sánchez is ambitious – increased wages will do nothing to appease him if he feels that his teammates are not at a level of ambition that matches his own, he won’t stay there beyond this season.
How Arsenal respond to this will be interesting, and telling. Their next three Premier League games are against Swansea, Burnley and Watford before travelling to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea. Whatever about losing to Antonio Conte’s side in February, victory in the games leading up that Stamford Bridge showdown is essential.
Twenty minutes of character (for a minimal reward) can’t excuse seventy minutes of being steamrolled. When the dust settles, they have potentially dropped two points on Chelsea (as did Liverpool 24 hours earlier), and that should be the biggest talking point.