Almost exactly four years to the day before Arsenal took on Chelsea at the Emirates this weekend, they enjoyed a 2-0 win that was supposed to be a turning point in Arsene Wenger’s reign as manager.
It was 18 January 2015 and, having lost at Southampton on New Year’s Day, Arsenal faced a daunting trip to title challengers Manchester City.
Crumbling against the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and City had become such a frequent occurrence under Wenger that the words ‘soft underbelly’ became almost synonymous with the club.
There was, it was said, no fight, no backbone to the team. They allowed good team to stroll through their midfield unchallenged. Shipping five or six would not be unexpected.
Then came the City game. Arsenal sat deep, let City have the ball and soaked up pressure. They struck with a penalty and at a set-piece. It was a brilliantly effective, smash-and-grab win that was totally atypical of Wenger’s side. Arsenal fans hoped a corner had been turned and the Etihad performance might become the blueprint for Arsenal playing against the big sides. It transpired, however, to be a false dawn.
So after the 5-1 defeat to Liverpool last month and then a meek loss at West Ham, there was palpable concern that the fundamental problems of Wenger’s reign remained despite the summer appointment of Unai Emery.