It was all so predictable that it hurts. Of course Marcus Rashford would score. Of course Arsenal would play against a Manchester United back four of Varela, Carrick, Blind and Rojo and only manage 5 shots on target. And of course, this side, who are supposedly "mentally strong", would collectively bottle it against one of the worst Manchester United sides in two decades. And in the aftermath of it all, it seems like the manager has genuinely hit a wall. Failing to win the league against Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea is one thing. But when the competition is Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City, it is no longer acceptable to not be finishing first; the money at the very least, dictates it. The bigger problem is the manager is no longer making the correct decisions; in fact, every big decision he makes turns out to be the wrong one. He is either static or wrong, and that is why Arsenal find themselves behind Leicester City and Tottenham. This team is not a team; it is a collection of individuals, with three massive problems.
1. Arsenal cannot score
Arsenal scored for the first time in three matches, and they scored two goals. But for large parts of the match, the movement of the front three was awful, as it has been for so much of this season. Arsenal do not even play good football; the play this season has been boring and average, with only the individual brilliance of Mesut Özil keeping Arsenal anywhere near the top. They've scored fewer goals than Leicester, Manchester City, Tottenham and Everton.
Theo Walcott's involvement was minimal, at best. Alexis Sánchez was bad, again, and at some point, there needs to be a conversation about how poor his form has been. He has scored in 3 of his last 23 Premier League games. The problem was seemingly Olivier Giroud, but he no longer links up with any of Arsenal's attacking players. His play is predictable; play on the left, cut inside, lose the ball. And yet, he is continually played on the left, with others, such as Danny Welbeck, played on the right hand side despite the fact that it might suit Arsenal better to have the players switched. But Wenger will not make such a chance, which leads us to the second problem.
2. Wenger's conservatism is costing Arsenal
Mathieu Flamini continues to play in 2016, which is astonishing. But that is not the problem either; it's that so many of these Arsenal players have been under par and continue to be picked every week. Francis Coquelin was awful, yet again. It has been clear from the beginning that he is not good enough to be first choice for a team that has aspirations of winning the league, or playing well in Europe. Even as the vaunted Coqzorla midfield played well in the league, there were few genuinely good performances. And that midfield spent this season in 4th, losing against Olympiacos, and losing against Monaco last season.
One of Arsenal's best performances this season, away at Leicester City, came with Mikel Arteta in midfield. Arsenal's midfield has been an issue for 18 months, since it became painfully clear that Arteta's fitness could no longer hold up. It is an issue that hasn't been addressed. Perhaps Mohamed Elneny is not good enough, but the manager has refused to play Calum Chambers in midfield, despite it working the few times he has.
Even Coquelin's defensive play isn't good enough. On Tuesday, he was exposed by Barcelona as he pushed too high up; today, he decided to act as a third centre back, letting Ander Herrera waltz to the top of the penalty box to score Manchester United's third. His passing is atrocious, and there is no controller in the midfield. And yet, next week, against a team that presses high, Wenger will play Coquelin in midfield, again. Why? Because there is no one else. This has been a problem for three transfer windows; the manager cannot claim that Arsenal are unlucky with injuries or timing.
Even today, after a first half performance that was one of the worst this season, Wenger didn't change the team until 60 minutes. Arsenal could've had the momentum with them had they built on Welbeck's 40th minute goal; instead, Wenger sent the same team out. It was predictably not good enough again, and the change of Giroud for Walcott should've been made at half time.
3. Wenger's decisions go against him
Before the match, Wenger dropped Per Mertsacker for Gabriel. The Brazilian was awful, with a Thomas Vermaelen-esque clearance to Marcus Rashford for their first, and was beaten pathetically easily by Rashford for the second. His distribution and play on the ball was predictably awful. The logic behind the decision is simply missing. We know by now that Gabriel and Koscielny is not a very good partnership. The manager himself said that it lacks leaders and communication, and Arsenal's back four was all over the place. There is little to suggest that Gabriel is good enough to start for Arsenal; there's even less to suggest that he's good enough to start ahead of Calum Chambers, who at least is a better partner for Koscielny.
What all of this boils down to is a team that makes the same mistakes, and repeats the same patterns every season. Arsenal don't win at Manchester United; Arsenal don't win at Anfield; Arsenal don't win against Chelsea. Never mind that collectively, these are some of the worst seasons in those club's recent history, Arsenal still succumb to the same issues. Finishing third was fine when United, Chelsea and City were all good. But this season, Arsenal are behind Leicester and Tottenham. Wenger's excuses are running thin. Of the players in those teams, not many, on paper, would get into Arsenal's XI--perhaps Mahrez from Leicester, and Kane and Vertonghen from Spurs. But both teams are stronger units than Arsenal, and that is the biggest indictment of all. Arsenal are not losing matches because the players aren't good enough (though some of them aren't); Arsenal are losing matches because the manager is no longer capable of constructing a group of players into a functioning unit that can win the league. And that, more than anything else, is why Arsenal need to make a change.