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Watching the balloon deflate

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Yes, it’s another column about that.

Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League 2 Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

I spent several hours over two days this weekend in urgent care, waiting to be seen. It isn’t anything serious, but it was something that I felt couldn’t wait for an appointment with my regular doctor, so off we went on Friday night. By the time I got seen and a diagnosis was close, it was too late for imaging, so I had to come back Saturday (be sure to check out my new blog theamericanmedicalbureaucracyisatotalshitshow.com). A total of three hours waiting to be seen Friday night, another 2.5 waiting to be seen on Saturday, and at the end of all of it, all I have is an appointment with my actual doctor and a couple theories as to what’s happening.

I don’t tell you this to engender sympathy - again, it’s really nothing serious, and my medical history isn’t the point of starting this piece that way. I tell you that story because, in the three hours I spent waiting Friday night, I felt exactly the way it feels to be an Arsenal fan right now.

I went into the thing knowing my expectations were probably high, and then as the evening went on, my expectations kept shifting. I knew something was going to happen, I just had no idea when, and I knew that nothing would improve until that something actually managed to happen. Even if the something I wanted to happen did happen, I knew it would probably be too little too late, or at the very least it might not have been worth the effort, and I would never get the time it took to get to the thing back again, no matter what happened.

Arsenal, right now, are in a really bad place. Not, of course, relegation-bad, or going-bankrupt bad, but relative to their size and history, they’re absolutely not where they want to be, nor, obviously, where their fans expect them to be. And there’s talk! There’s talk of new players, there’s talk of players exiting, and there’s already been a couple players shown the door, so it’s not like Arsenal aren’t doing anything to try to address the situation.

And this, friends, is where I start sounding like a broken record: it doesn’t matter. Arsenal can get all the new players they want, they can show out all the fringe players they need to, and it won’t matter. It won’t matter because at the head of the train is a guy who, throughout his career, has been more about getting players and trusting them to be smart than about coaching them into being clever. A guy who is convinced that coaching that way is the best way to get the best out of players.

News flash: When there were three good coaches in the Premier League, that strategy worked great. Now, though, there’s good coaching up and down the league, and a faith that you’ve gotten smart players who you then let play smartly isn’t enough any more. At some point, you have to coach them; you have to drill into them a set of tactics and philosophies they can rely on when things go sideways. You have to teach defending as much as attacking. You have to teach the value of locking the door when necessary.

I know, this is nothing new; we’ve all seen this play out in its own ugly way over the last couple seasons. It’s just that Sunday, for me, served as a bit of a realization. I mentioned this in the comments, but losing to Bournemouth didn’t even make me mad; it should have, and I should still be mad about it. But it didn’t. It didn’t, because losing to Bournemouth is the inevitable byproduct of where Arsenal have been heading the last couple seasons; they’re not a team who anyone is afraid to face any more. While never automatic league favorites, Arsenal have, until recently, been a team that caused a lot of other teams a lot of problems, and could make noise in a few competitions if things went the right way.

Well, nothing’s going the right way any more, and there’s no quick road back. The first step on that road is for Arsene to go, and while I know that won’t happen now (and may not happen this summer), it doesn’t stop me loudly demanding it as often as possible. No matter how well the front office reorg goes, or how successfully the new regime brings in better quality players, until the reason a front office reorg was made necessary departs, nothing of substance will change at Arsenal. And that’s the saddest part of this whole story.