The world has changed beyond recognition in the past three months but you can rely on Arsenal to have the same old problems.
Wednesday night’s 3-0 defeat at Manchester City poured a bucket of cold water on ambitions they can compete for a Champions League place between now and the end of the season.
But Arsenal’s issues go quite some way beyond another masterclass in kamikaze defending by David Luiz.
Mikel Arteta looks on with a worried expression as Arsenal are well beaten by Manchester City
David Luiz endured a nightmare evening as Arsenal’s restart didn’t go according to plan
Mikel Arteta has the unenviable challenge of rebuilding the club he used to represent with distinction on the field into a force that competes for trophies and the title.
We take a look at some of the hurdles that need to be overcome to restore Arsenal to a position of strength in the Premier League.
DEFENSIVE CALAMITY AND DAVID LUIZ
Arsenal fans must have shuddered when Pablo Mari limped off at the Etihad Stadium and the television cameras panned round to David Luiz bounding down the steps to come on.
Luiz proceeded to have one of those calamitous nights that have dogged him throughout his career, at fault for Raheem Sterling’s opener and then sent off for dragging down Riyad Mahrez inside the box.
The Brazilian has featured prominently since Arteta took charge in December and was beginning to assert some authority again but now his manager will be wondering whether he’s too much of a liability.
Luiz took full responsibility after his horror performance in Arsenal’s loss to Manchester City
Luiz was caught on the wrong side of Riyad Mahrez and brought down attacker inside the box
The defender was sent off early on in the second half as Manchester City dominated
The 33-year-old Luiz is only contracted until the end of the season but wants to stay at Arsenal. But you do wonder if we’ve now seen the last of him in the Premier League.
We didn’t need Wednesday night to tell us that Arsenal urgently need some stability in defence. They’ve now conceded 39 Premier League goals this season, just one fewer than they’ve scored.
It helps explain why Arsenal have drawn 13 league matches this season to leave them a lowly ninth in the standings. They’ve taken just a point when they’d expect three far too often.
Pablo Mari could be sidelined for forthcoming games after going off injured against City
Arsenal will be able to call upon £27million signing William Saliba (right) next season
Luiz has gone the same way as Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi, while Mari’s injury will now be of even greater concern.
Arteta won’t be able to work with William Saliba, their highly promising £27million signing of last summer, until next season after he was loaned back to Saint-Etienne.
Saliba, 19, offers hope for the future but it’s blatantly obvious that Arteta needs to target at least one experienced, commanding centre-half this summer. That will be easier said than done.
Without addressing their leaky back line, Arsenal simply cannot move forward next season.
The return of the Premier League after a three-month break brought with it the promise of some unpredictability. Form and fitness were up in the air for all teams and so surely Arsenal would never have a better chance to spring a surprise on City.
No chance. It was the same old story for Arsenal as they collapsed to defeat away from home to an opponent they considered their ‘top six’ contemporary not long ago.
Arsenal have now failed to win their last 25 visits to City, Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham dating back to January 2015, losing 15 of them and keeping one clean sheet.
Mikel Arteta delivers instructions to his Arsenal players in defeat at Manchester City
Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud were on target in Arsenal’s last win at a top six rival in 2015
Of course this torrid record is something Arteta has inherited from Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery before him but the longer the run continues, the more of a psychological barrier it becomes.
Why is that Arsenal are ill-equipped to cope with playing the leading teams in their own stadium? Even before Luiz’s red card on Wednesday night, their forwards had barely made a dent.
Somehow Arteta needs to get to the root of the problem and it’s not as though hostile crowds can be used as an excuse any more.
He will have one more opportunity before the end of this season – a North London derby trip to Tottenham.
THE OZIL CONUNDRUM
The lack of spark in Arsenal’s midfield this season is reflected in the facts and figures. No midfielder has scored more than one Premier League goal while Mesut Ozil and Dani Ceballos have just two assists apiece.
Given that, it’s remarkable first choice forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored 17 times and remains in contention for the Golden Boot.
But it’s the sorry case of Ozil that best epitomises Arsenal’s drift and decline in recent times.
Their top earner, on a handsome weekly pay packet of £350,000, has contributed one goal and three assists in all competitions so far this season.
Mesut Ozil was left out of Arsenal’s whole squad for their visit to Man City on Wednesday
Ozil has featured in Arsenal’s warm-up matches and is not suffering from any injuries
And it says everything that Arteta left him out of an expanded 20-man squad for Wednesday night’s game because of ‘tactical reasons’.
It’s incredibly difficult to recall the last time Ozil produced a game-changing performance, especially in a big game.
Perhaps being one of the Arsenal players who resisted a 12.5 per cent pay cut amid the Covid-19 crisis will prove a final straw.
But Arsenal face a conundrum. With Ozil’s money-sapping contract not expiring until next summer, this year will be their last chance to get any money for the 31-year-old. But interest is thin on the ground.
Arsenal boss Arteta (left) said Ozil was omitted from the squad for ‘tactical reasons’
Owner Stan Kroenke is desperate to reduce the club’s bloated £230million-a-year wage bill to steel the club’s balance sheet against the coronavirus crisis and top earner Ozil would be first for the chop.
However, with the German more than happy to sit and collect his money for another year while contributing next to nothing, getting rid of him won’t be easy.
It doesn’t exactly bode well for Arsenal when you have Kia Joorabchian, agent to Luiz and also the club’s technical director Edu, talking about ‘several issues within the whole structure that will be resolved’ in the next few days.
Joorabchian’s comments reflect the fact it isn’t just Luiz’s future up in the air at Arsenal.
In his post-match remarks after his horror show on Wednesday, Luiz implied the uncertainty over whether his contract would be extended into next season were the reason for his poor display.
Luiz’s agent Joorabchian has set the club a deadline to sort out his client’s future
Like Luiz, star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is yet to have his Arsenal future resolved
With Luiz keen to stay at the Emirates, both player and agent are only too happy to pile on the pressure with time fast running out to make a decision.
And he isn’t the only contractual headache at the club. There’s Ozil and then the alarming situation that sees star player and captain Aubameyang and leading young prospect Bukayo Saka with just one year left on their deals.
Arteta has stressed how important it is to tie Saka, 18, down to a long-term contract and Aubameyang is clearly waiting to see if Arsenal qualify for Europe and the offers that come in before deciding whether to commit.
Questions will be asked of Huss Fahmy, the club’s chief negotiator who came with a strong reputation for sealing deals, as to how this situation has come about.
Talented youngster Bukayo Saka (right) is another whose contract expires next summer
LOOMING FINANCIAL TROUBLE
Qualifying for the Champions League every season became expected of Arsenal during the Wenger era but now they’ve had three years away, making do with the Europa League.
And missing out on lucrative Champions League income is starting to show on their balance sheet with figures for the 2018-19 season showing a £27.1million loss.
So the last thing they needed is a turbulent season that saw them spend a club record £72m on Nicolas Pepe, a mid-season managerial change, early exit from Europe and low league position.
It’s been a season of frustration at Arsenal with the team currently ninth in the Premier League
Arsenal, owned by Stan Kroenke, cannot afford to keep missing out on the Champions League
That financial loss came before the Covid-19 crisis struck and analysis from the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust suggested a slim £4m profit for 2019-20 will now be a £19m loss because of lost matchday revenue.
And they predict that if all of next season is played behind closed doors as well, the club stands to lose an eye-watering £144m.
With Arsenal’s Europa League prize money dwarfed by what their rivals are coining in from the Champions League, a wealth gap is beginning to open up.
Failure to qualify for Europe could see assets like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leave the club
It could be a stormy financial outlook at the club if Covid-19 is combined with failure on pitch
The Gunners will be far from alone with no club in world football – however big – immune from the crippling impact of coronavirus.
But it does emphasise how vital it is that Arteta delivers them back into the Champions League as soon as possible. On Wednesday night’s evidence, this will be an uphill struggle.
Failure to make Europe at the end of the season will inevitably have a knock-on effect not only on whether the likes of Aubameyang will stay at the club but how quickly the rebuild can happen.
Arsenal clearly do have cash reserves to spend in the market, hence their interest in Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey, valued at £45million.
Atletico aren’t having a vintage year themselves but why would Partey, used to playing in the Champions League, choose to go there if Arsenal are out of Europe?
Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey, valued at £45m, is a player Arsenal are interested in
The same logic can be applied to any other top class summer targets and it makes Arteta’s life that much harder to attract the quality needed.
Despite the setback at City, there have been many signs of encouragement since Arteta took over in December. There’s more fighting spirit about Arsenal and they were on a good winning run before the break.
But equally they still sit ninth in the table, well adrift of their rivals, and require several fresh faces to make up that gap. Not being in Europe not only dents prestige but makes the practicalities of the rebuild tricky as well.