In October the moment of truth starts for the team. The league establishes itself a little bit and the Champions League goes to decisive moments. Therefore of course, it's important to be decisive and convincing.
That was Arsene Wenger talking on Thursday. On Saturday evening, he could reflect on Arsenal's lacklustre performance against Norwich City, and be very concerned. Instead of being convincing, Arsenal were, for a lack of a better word, rubbish. The defeat to Norwich, though, was decisive; Arsenal are 10 points off of Chelsea in the league and only 2 points better off than they were at this stage last season, when Arsenal bought half of their team on the final day of the transfer window. When you compare the results this season with last season, with Southampton at home equaling Blackburn and West Ham away equaling Wolves, Arsenal are 6 points worse off than they were last season; with wins against Norwich and Sunderland turning into dropped points and a draw at home to Chelsea turning into a defeat. Only at the Etihad did Arsenal improve, yet its beginning to look like the exception, not the rule.
If Arsenal are to be Champions at some point, it is this type of fixture that they must win. It is a type of fixture, away against a clearly inferior side, that they have consistently not won since 2004. It has become too easy to set up a frustrating defence against Arsenal; if you defend deep, and clog the middle, you will stop Arsenal from scoring goals. Arsenal had been successful away from home because there was more space, but Norwich treated this like an away game, and Arsenal played against Chris Hughton's side in a similar fashion to the way they played against his Newcastle team in 2010/11 when they lost 1-0. On that day, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were subdued; for today, substitute Santi Cazorla for Fabregas and Lukas Podolski and Gervinho for Nasri, and any analysis of the games would be almost the same.
The other top teams, though, don't often have this problem, and it's because they are not so one-dimensional. Manchester City today were also stopped from creating in open play against a packed defence, but because they take competent set pieces, they were able to equalise against West Bromwich Albion. Manchester United have, for years, been able to break teams down with crosses and with intricate passing play, and did so today. Arsenal, though, consistently cannot break teams down, and for the amount of crosses attempted today, 25, Arsenal completed 4, and none led to any threatening chances. The movement was lethargic, the passing slow; Arsenal dominated possession without dominating the creation of clear chances. And it wasn't a case of missing Robin van Persie; put the Dutchman in the team for Olivier Giroud, and Arsenal probably wouldn't have scored, because Giroud wasn't found in goal-scoring positions because of Arsenal's failure to create.
The cast is different, but the results are the same, and yet again, in Arsenal's moment of truth, the team failed to deliver and show that they can match the quality and consistency of the top, title challenging teams. The gap is surely too large to consider Arsenal title challengers, and, with the results not all too different from last season, Arsenal can perhaps only achieve as much as they did last season. And with this type of performance the kind that constantly plagues Arsenal, it's up to the manager to sort it out; thus far, he has failed, and until he does find a solution, Arsenal will find that their ceiling is third place. The results of the past seven seasons, and the games that Arsenal have dropped points this season indicate that the solution is no closer.