Yes, Alexis Sanchez has left for Juventus and the only fit centre-halves are Per Mertesacker and an 18-year-old summer signing from Peterborough United, but the late surge at the end of last season that sealed a top-four finish means there is cause for optimism.
The spirit is best summed up by ArsenalFanTV’s Ty, who, once again, honestly sees no reason why they cannot win the quadruple. Unfortunately, this Pollyannaish mood is punctured when Scott Dann’s thundering header puts Crystal Palace in front on the cusp of half-time. Once Jason Puncheon’s 87th-minute scuffed strike ensures all three points will be heading south of the river, the Emirates returns to its natural state of acrimony.
September – October
Once the transfer window is out of the way, Arsenal’s form begins to slowly pick up and they claim routine wins over some of top-flight’s lesser lights. Mesut Özil sets up all five in a rout of newly-promoted Brighton and Hove Albion, nicely padding out his attacking output numbers for the next couple of months.
Then comes a significant victory against a fellow top six side, with a defensively-suspect Manchester City beaten at the Emirates. Suddenly, implausibly and without showing any of the conviction you would expect from serious title challengers, as we enter the October international break, Arsenal are top of the Premier League.
Not for long, though. Arsenal’s brief spell of optimism is brought to an abrupt end by a typically ruinous November, which begins with 90 minutes of Troy Deeney bullying their centre-backs in a listless display at Watford. The following Wednesday night, an away defeat to Ralph Hasenhüttl’s RB Leipzig leaves their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League knock-out stages in the balance.
For the first time this season, the ‘Wenger Out’ brigade properly begin to find their voice, and before the visit of Manchester United to the Emirates, hundreds make the short march from Piebury Corner to their £97 seats, their genuine concerns ignored, their wackier elements exaggerated. Then their team loses 2-0, and the season really starts to unravel.
At this point, a glance at Arsenal’s long list of absentees has medical staff in concurrence with one of the club’s best-known supporters. They are indeed “f*****, blud”.
The only positive is that twelve injuries at this stage of the season represents a relatively clean bill of health when compared to the 13 of five years ago, the 14 of two years ago and the 19 of three years ago.
And technically, seeing as Santi Cazorla is little more than a reanimated corpse at this point, his does not count.
This year’s injury crisis has hit Arsenal’s defence hardest.
Thankfully, the new year brings the possibility of reinforcements. Several dependable centre-halves from some of Europe’s leading clubs are linked with a January move, and anticipation builds on fan forums and social media, but for those calling the shots, each seems to cost a million too much.
Not to worry though, as a 33-year-old Philippe Senderos is still a free agent following his release from Rangers seven months earlier and better still, he retains just enough anterior cruciate knee ligaments to perform.
Despite the injury problems and mediocre form, Arsenal stay within distance of the pacesetters. Though a title push appears to be a stretch, a top-four finish is likely, and what better way to build excitement for next year’s Champions League campaign than to bring their current one of a swift and humiliating end against a member of European football’s elite?
With Bayern Munich having had their fill, it is Barcelona’s turn this time, and despite a 14-1 aggregate defeat, Wenger insists that Arsenal are at the same level as last season’s Champions League winners, in much the same way as a fine Bordeaux shares the same supermarket shelf as Blue Nun.
With European hopes dashed for another year, Arsenal turn to domestic affairs for respite, only to realise that next up on the fixture list is their customary collapse at Stamford Bridge.
It is just a 4-0 defeat on this occasion, with Mohamed Elneny sent off after six minutes for having the temerity to be elbowed by Diego Costa, but it extinguishes any lingering hope that they could succeed their cross-city rivals as Premier League champions.
With the pressure off, it is time to turn on the style, and they rally as we enter the tail end of the campaign. Olivier Giroud, in particular, finds form, knocking a brace past Bournemouth and a notching hat-trick against Swansea City. The hot streak of form on a flat track lifts him into double figures for the season and the third, a tap-in to round off a 57-pass-move, is hailed as the goal of the century, until it is forgotten about three weeks later.
The ‘Wenger Out’ brigade duly quieten a touch, but their hopes of a hard ‘Wexit’ are buoyed when reading between the lines of an interview that the Arsenal manager gives to independent French magazine L’Rêveur, in which he muses on man’s inhumanity to man, the immediacy of the modern age and how everything, given an infinite timescale, eventually turns to merde.
An hour before kick-off on the final day of the season, a top-four finish secured with one game to go, the final, predictable part of Arsenal’s 2017/18 season is played out, when Wenger confirms what everybody already knew in a pre-match interview with Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves.
Despite the underachievement, despite the disappointment, despite the same old patterns being played out year after year and despite, above all else, one of the game’s greatest-ever managers having his once-outstanding tenure sullied, they will do this all over again. One more year.