Remember how good we all felt in May, when Arsenal finished fourth after a pretty damn amazing runin to end the season in a Champions League place, and solidify their Big Club Club status? That felt pretty good, didn't it? Now, go back to December 1, 2012. Arsenal were coming off a November that was pretty bad, at least in the league - apart from a 5-2 hiding of a North London Homeless Orphans XI, there was a loss to Manchester United and draws with Everton, Villa, and Fulham. So the team was looking to start December with a renewed sense of purpose; they were 7th in the table after dropping so many points, and the first match of the month saw Arsenal roll out the welcome mat to Swansea, who at the time were in 13th place and, apart from Michu, not really playing all that well. So all the stars aligned for Arsenal to find their form, kick off a really busy December with three vital points, and kickstart their season.
Trouble was, nobody told Swansea they were supposed to roll over and die.
The game didn't start well at all - lacking Sagna and Kos, Arsenal had to go with a makeshift back line of Gibbs/Verm/Mert/Jenkinson, and that back line nearly conceded a goal in the first 15 minutes. It only got worse from there - Arsenal were flat, slow, completely without ideas, and allowed Swansea - SWANSEA! - to dominate the first half. Several people noticed that Swansea were playing like Arsenal - quick, short passes, constant movement, and spreading the ball around the pitch - and were left wondering why Arsenal didn't play like Arsenal.
Arsene must have said something at half-time, because Arsenal came out for the second half looking much more lively. Cazorla had a shot saved, Gervinho (!) had a penalty shout, and when Arsene subbed out Gerv and Podolski for Wilshere and Ox, I thought "OK, this might work, there could be a couple goals here". Turns out there were!
Most of the second half was Arsenal laboring, rather badly, to think of what to do with that round white thing at their feet - they usually kicked it into touch or over to Swansea - and Swansea swatting those labors aside like flies on a lazy summer day and accepting the gift of Arsenal looking like shit. Then, in the 89th minute, Michu latched on to a gorgeous through ball from Luke Moore and made no mistake, beating three Arsenal defenders and poking the ball into the top left corner for a 1-0 lead. Two minutes later, he did it again, and mercifully the final whistle blew there for a 2-0 loss.
This was, undoubtedly, the lowest point in the Arsenal career of Arsene Wenger - people finally started to question whether the game has passed him by, and in the comments of this piece I even typed up an exit strategy for Wenger and the board to part company gracefully. It was looking like the best era in the history of Arsenal was coming to an end.
It wasn't really a knee-jerk reaction to one game, either - November had seen Arsenal be very rigid, very inflexible, and very sloppy, and that stretch of games led many to wonder if Arsene had finally had enough - or, more importantly, if the board had.
We all know how the story ended (or hasn't ended yet, I guess) - the strong runin, the massive trough of off season money, etc - but winter was really bleak for Arsenal. Had they won a few games in November and December that they didn't, the need for such heroics at the end of the season would have been much less. I wish I could say this game was a catalyst for that big finish, but even after this embarrassment, it took Arsenal a couple months to kick it into gear - all we were left with in November and early December was anger, frustration, despair, and confusion.
Arsenal were very un-Arsenal for large swaths of last season, and this game was the struggles of the season all wrapped up in one fetid, stinking, rotting carcass. I know I just wrote 700 words about it, but the sooner I forget this match happened, the happier I will be.