Arsenal 0-2 Swansea City: This is Who We Are

When faced with two equal but opposite hyperbolic positions, the truth typically lies in the middle. Tonight's inquest will surely result in anger, vitriol and furious condemnations of the players and the manager. There will be some truth there, but it inevitably will overshoot the mark some.

The thing is, the team itself, the players and the manager are all not nearly as bad as the caricatures will insist upon. Conversely, none of them are remotely as good as expectations dictate that they be.

Let's start with the manager. Long time readers know that, on two occasions, I've written pieces calling for him to go. I haven't changed my mind. However, that's not to say that he is a poor manager or even an average one. I would still rather have Arsene than 80% of the managers in the world.

That said, unquestionably his best trait early in his Arsenal career was finding undervalued talent and giving them the freedom to play with verve and vigor. Imitation is the highest form of flattery though, and the deeper-pocketed sides have stolen a march on him by aping his methods to perfection. Without that scouting advantage, we're left with a situation where top players will never play for us in this environment. It would be one thing if we could in turn outflank sides tactically, but even Arsene's biggest supporters would have to admit that he has never displayed outstanding acumen in that regard.

He is, in short, a formerly-great manager who is now pretty good.

As for the team, Gooners will sling their brickbats at Theo Walcott, and Carl Jenkinson, and Lukas Podolski, and maybe even Santi Cazorla in extreme cases. They'll have their bad games, they'll have their good games. The long view of it though is that we are still a big enough club to attract B+ players - but with the exception of Cazorla and perhaps Wojceich Szczesny, we are bereft of anyone A- or better. This is a side that in the right conditions can attack well and score good goals, but they do not have the kind of player who can overcome any serious resistance through force of will or superlative talent.

The unavoidable conclusion is that this season was always coming. There have been a few lucky escapes - be it through the lasagne incident or one good result here or there - but the fact is that each campaign has seen constantly diminishing returns. Every season, we are perhaps 85% of what we were. You can't keep losing your good players, you can't keep showing zero ambition, you can't keep blowing smoke up supporters' asses with pretensions of winning the title and avoid a situation like we're in now.

As recently as two seasons ago, we laughed at Liverpool. Now, we are Liverpool.

That was always the danger with the path that this club has chosen. I've said it before, but this is not the 1970s or 1980s where fortunes could change in a heartbeat. The caste system in world football has calcified to the point where once your seat at the table changes for the worse, it is indescribably difficult to regain that former status. Look at how Liverpool and Newcastle and Aston Villa have lost their way - look at how hopeless their struggle is at getting back to that level.

In the absence of an oligarch's billions, inertia is the only thing that can keep you where you are. Consider this - if you are a bright young talent (think a Pires or a Ljungberg before we bought them), what on earth is your incentive for signing with Arsenal? We are no threat to win the domestic championship. We continually flatter to deceive in the cup competitions. We don't pay nearly what the big clubs do. But other than that, what's the downside?

That, incidentally, brings me to just how annoying it is that the manager continually trumpets our 13-year streak of getting to the knockout stage of the Champions League. Recently, that is his main defense of his coaching record. Sure, on the face of it, it sounds impressive. But, mull this over for a second - in how many of those years were we a serious contender to win it? There was the one season we made the final of course, but other than that? I'd argue the answer is zero.

And that ties into the deeper malaise that we're dealing with here. The big clubs - your Madrids and Munichs and Manchesters - largely understand that in order to take a shot at glory, sometimes you need to have that one transitional season to re-tool. They don't have our 13-year record because they grasp that point. They get that the phoenix has to die in order to be reborn. What we have opted for is a song with one note - a constant, self-perpetuating mediocrity that results in Groundhog Season playing out over and over again like the copulation of a loveless married couple.

I know that normally I spend a lot more time discussing the happenings of the match itself in these reports, but in this case I think it almost misses the point. Still, I should perhaps give it a cursory review.

The first half was a turgid mess, Arsenal huffing and puffing in a vain attempt to break down the Swansea backline. It was indeed the visitors that had the better chances, a stunning double-save by Szczesny the only thing keeping the scoreline level by the break. I forget which half it was, but there was also an instance in which our suicidially-high defensive line was eviscerated yet again by a Swansea through ball, leaving their guy in one-on-one. The combination of Szczesny's positioning and Thomas Vermaelen's lung-busting run back forced their guy into shooting miles over the bar. That was, for once, fantastic defending from Arsenal.

Still, this was a match against opponents not famed for their defensive capabilities, with a backup goalkeeper in net (though Gerhard Tremmel did have a good game in what little he had to do), at home. Despite that, there was never any instance in which it looked like we would score. How many games is it now this season where you could say that? How many times is it now that we had less than, say, 3 shots on target? It's like we're a more expensive Sunderland.

The second half was much the same, though at least this time the substitutions made sense. The catastrophically-inept Gervinho and The Ghost of Lukas Podolski were withdrawn in favor of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud. Later, Jack Wilshere was taken off in favor of Tomas Rosicky. There was some groaning in the pub about that one, but let's be real - Wilshere is still recovering from a long-term injury, and Rosicky needs minutes. And, at least I actually like Rosicky and appreciate the effort that he brings. I can't say that about everyone in red and white, I'll tell you that much.

Oddly enough, I still thought 0-0 or 1-0 us were the more likely scorelines right up until the end. But, we got undone for the umpteenth time by our manager's complete inability to have a Plan B. We play the same high line against everyone, no matter what their abilities are. It's fine against the cloggers of the world who can only combat it with low-percentage Route One long balls. But, against a side like Swansea who are comfortable on the ball and have some pace, you're asking to get beaten by diagonal passes to an onrushing forward.

Michu - who incidentally was the kind of player Arsene used to buy - benefited from exactly that scenario. Twice, he ran onto brilliant defense-splitting passes. Twice, he coolly finished past the stranded and blameless Szczesny.

So, that's your lot. Sometimes, we'll win games we shouldn't. Sometimes, we'll lose to teams below us. Matches against other mid-table teams are a randomizer, much like they are for Norwich or Swansea or Stoke.

As the song goes, I'm Arsenal until I die. If the abyss is where this club leads me, I'll follow without a second thought. My worry though is that I'll have to do exactly that.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Gibbs 5, Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 7, Jenkinson 5, Arteta 6, Podolski 5 (Giroud 6), Wilshere 7 (Rosicky 6), Cazorla 6, Walcott 5, Gervinho 5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 6)

Man of the Match: This one wasn't difficult - Wojceich Szczesny, all day.