Heading toward a tipping point

Posted by Sam Limbert

In the context of most other clubs in Britain, Arsenal are not in crisis. They are just in a lull. However as fans, the context of other clubs isn’t important. For Arsenal Football Club, a loss to Tottenham Hotspur always feels terrible, and this season it feels like a big step towards a crucial tipping point for the club in the slow fall away from the top four.

-- Hirshey: Balance has shifted in North London

Five points from Chelsea and seven points from Tottenham in ten games aren’t insurmountable, and Spurs’ capitulation last season does give hope that something similar could happen again. Last season showed momentum can be a crucial factor in the season run-in -- Arsenal had it last year but they definitely don’t have it at the moment in the wake of Sunday's 2-1 loss at White Hart Lane.

If there is a St Totteringham’s Day to celebrate this year, then Arsene Wenger should get due praise for somehow catching the top four. At the moment, it's difficult to see that happening. In previous seasons in which Arsenal have struggled under his management, there has always been a sense that he and the team would find a way of just sneaking Arsenal into the top four. Whether it was down to an individual in the team or the clear signs that others around the club in the table would falter, confidence always remained that Arsenal would be amongst Europe’s elite for another season.

Had Arsenal won at White Hart Lane on Sunday, that confident feeling would have returned. Instead, it wasn’t just the scoreline itself, but the manner of defeat that means it feels like Arsenal are heading towards a defining moment in the recent history of the club. Arsenal were in control most of the game, but once again they let themselves down with concentration lapses that were clinically punished.

After throwing away leads in the last two North London derbies, Tottenham were unlikely to do the same on Sunday. Their usual signs of weakness aren't appearing this season as they were at this time last campaign. Spurs have learned from their fall last year, and Arsenal haven't learned from numerous defensive lessons earlier this season.

With no signs those defensive lapses are set to end, the fear is that they will continue to cost Arsenal points and the final Champions League place will continue to slip further away. Things are hardly perfect up front, either. Goals have dried up, and the spark that Arsenal have often been able to turn to during the season run-in isn’t there. In 2006, Thierry Henry (and some lasagne) sparked Arsenal’s late surge into the top four. Last season, there was always a chance with Robin van Persie up front. Olivier Giroud might work hard, but at best he'd be a good second-choice striker. Instead, he has to lead the line at a pivotal time.

With rumours of an attempted Arab takeover of the club, and some more media rumblings about Steve Bould’s working relationship with Arsene Wenger, all signs don’t feel like they are pointing to the Champions League. Honestly, I don’t know where they’re pointing. It might be the Europa League, it could be even worse. Whatever road Arsenal end up going down, it could end at a tipping point this summer. Some might argue they need to have a spark wake-up call to enforce a reshuffle at the club on numerous levels; however, in the long run it’s impossible to know what the consequences of this season could be.

The pain of the Spurs defeat will now linger for over a week until Arsenal take on the unlikely task of overturning a two-goal deficit in Munich. Even if Arsenal exit the Champions League in that match, they need to give supporters hope that this season's signs aren’t pointing to such an unknown and painful conclusion.

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