Arsenal’s shock defeats to West Brom and Crystal Palace last season were symptomatic of a team not fully focused on the game in hand. Manager Arsene Wenger even admitted that the uncertainty over his own contractual situation contributed to the poor form and subsequent fifth-placed finish.
The most alarming aspect of those games was that the Gunners rarely looked like scoring and while results haven’t been as shocking thus far this term, Wednesday’s stalemate against a relegation-threatened West Ham side doesn’t bode well for the north Londoners' top-four hopes.
Wenger’s side have produced a performances of varying quality in their past three games. Pure dominance against Manchester United ended with defeat at home, while trips to Southampton and West Ham were more a case of struggling to create opportunities despite recording ample possession.
Rotation was expected against the Hammers and the decision to play right-footed Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left-back was somewhat surprising, considering Wenger had a natural left-back in Nacho Monreal and more experienced centre-back options available.
Teams are no longer scared of Arsenal and why should they be when the Gunners fail to stamp their mark on games such as the one at London Stadium?
The main positive to take out of Wednesday’s derby was that Arsenal started with four homegrown players in Hector Bellerin, Alex Iwobi, Maitland-Niles and boyhood Hammers supporter Jack Wilshere. Ironically, it was the England international who had Arsenal’s best chance of the second half, firing over from close range.
As it stands, the top four appears beyond Arsenal, who always look vulnerable on the counter-attack and at set pieces. They continuously seem to go through the motions in games against so-called smaller sides.
It may only be December but Arsenal’s inconsistency looks set to get the better of them yet again. Uncertainty over the futures of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, who are both able to sign pre-contracts with foreign clubs in January, won’t do anything to stem the tide where negativity is concerned among the fanbase.
Arsenal's results away from home in the Premier League in 2017 are not good. They have lost nine of their 19 games on the road, conceding 32 times and picking up just 22 points in the process.
Furthermore, eight sides have already won more points on the road this season than the Gunners (Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool, Burnley, Watford, Leicester and Spurs), while only once in Premier League history have they won few than nine points from their first nine away games (eight, 2005-06).
Unless their performances – and results – away from home improve in upcoming Christmas fixtures against the likes of Crystal Palace and West Brom, then Arsenal can forget about securing a return to the Champions League via a top-four finish.