Arsène Wenger is brooding over another campaign that may well go wrong.
The goalless draw with Blackburn Rovers has added to the harm and he sounded in the mood for radical action. "I want to finish the season and then we'll see," the Arsenal manager said, although he did not go into detail.
He has held the job since the autumn of 1996 and the current contract stretches to 2014. Wenger may have been referring to a thorough rebuilding of the squad, but it would also be reasonable for him to ask himself whether his own impact is waning. The previous home match with Sunderland had also been goalless.
"We've known for a long time that these games were coming and that we had to win them," he said. "It's difficult to explain. The players did want it but we were just one-paced and that's not our game." The manager himself seemed off-form as he got his facts wrong and grumbled about the Premier League leaders Manchester United having the advantage of playing first, as they did at the weekend.
Wenger supposed that this applied until the end of the season. It does not. On 8 May, for instance, Arsenal's away match at Stoke City precedes United's home game with Chelsea. If he were in livelier mood, it might also have occurred to Wenger that his side could grab some points against Liverpool at the Emirates on 17 April while Sir Alex Ferguson's side are engaged that weekend in an FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City.
Despondency was widespread in Arsenal's ranks on Saturday. The side have not won a League game since 23 February and this goalless draw had been preceded by the same deadlock. It was quite an exploit for Arsenal to avoid scoring against Blackburn, whose defensive record away from home is the worst in the Premier League.
Wenger's players crept through the game as if hoping to go unnoticed. Arsenal resisted any inducement to take control, stubbornly declining to cut loose even after Steven Nzonzi was sent off for an uncontrolled challenge on Laurent Koscielny in the 76th minute. Steve Kean's side were, if anything, likelier to score than the hosts, if only because of Manuel Almunia's shakiness in goal.
Every contest is a comparison and the judgment on Arsenal is severe since they bore no resemblance to a United line-up that rallied from 2-0 down for their 4-2 victory at Upton Park. The general impression is that that Arsenal's defence has been unsatisfactory since, in particular, the centre-half Thomas Vermaelen became a long-term absentee. That verdict is correct, but the troubles do not end there.
Arsenal were incapable of imposing themselves and Blackburn cannot have felt overwhelmed at any stage. Steve Kean, the manager, must have had one of his more reassuring afternoons since his promotion into the job five months ago. There was no comfort for his opposite number. Wenger ended the day with three centre-forwards on the field, having sent out Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh to accompany Robin van Persie, but that seemed merely to cost the team what little poise it had.
There were occasions when the side might well have scored. Jack Wilshere, for instance, had a mis-hit when he looked set to claim a goal and Alex Song saw an attempt blocked in the fourth minute. Instead of developing momentum, however, Arsenal suffered a surge in their anxiety levels. Pleasing as it was to see the return of Theo Walcott from his ankle injury, his inaction during five weeks on the sidelines meant that he needed help from others, even if Wenger had hoped that the Englishman would come to the aid of the team.
It may have been natural for Walcott to be replaced, but there was a little concern at the sight of an ice pack being applied to the ankle. Of course, nobody would have given much thought to that if Arsenal had been playing the smart and dashing football of which they are so capable.
The talk now is of Chelsea strengthening their squad and United planning to spend heavily in the summer. Given the current sense of transition at both clubs, this campaign had held out the now receding hope that Arsenal would take their first trophy in six years. The mission can only get harder still. No wonder Wenger has started to think of a time when he will no longer be with Arsenal.
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