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Predictable defeat at Chelsea underlines how Arsenal are stagnating under Arsene Wenger

07:11 06 February 2017

Arsenal substitute Danny Welbeck (left) battles for the ball with Chelsea's Nemanja Matic

Arsenal substitute Danny Welbeck (left) battles for the ball with Chelsea's Nemanja Matic

Archant

There were no celebrations, flamboyant or otherwise, from Cesc Fabregas after his goal had hammered a final nail into Arsenal’s coffin at Stamford Bridge.

In fact, the former Gunners skipper looked positively sheepish, maybe even embarrassed – and not just at Petr Cech’s howler, which gifted him the chance to lob Chelsea’s third goal into the unguarded Arsenal net.

Perhaps Fabregas – recalling some genuinely hard-fought tussles between the two sides earlier in his career – was mildly embarrassed at the ease with which Arsenal were seen off by his current employers.

Technically, the Gunners – who have, after all, made a habit of snatching late goals this season – were still in contention at 2-0 down until Fabregas scored with five minutes to play.

In reality, the wound was already fatal long before Fabregas rubbed salt into it. Arsene Wenger’s side never looked remotely like avoiding their fifth successive defeat at this venue.

Everything about Arsenal was predictable – as is the unfolding of their season. February is so often the month when it becomes apparent that they can hope for nothing tangible other than the FA Cup.

The ominous cycle appears to be repeating itself yet again. Even the most blinkered and optimistic Gooners, you would think, will not be expecting their side to make up a 12-point gap over the next 14 games.

And right now, Arsenal look in no condition to face Bayern Munich, not that the identity of their last-16 opponents in the Champions League ever seems to make any difference.

Much was made, in the build-up to Saturday’s encounter, of the way in which Chelsea turned their season around following their 3-0 drubbing at the Emirates in September.

So there should logically have been hopes of a similar reaction from Arsenal, who had looked fairly abject in their home defeat to Watford four days earlier.

There was little evidence of that. The defence looked porous, while the Gunners’ midfield – admittedly shorn not just of the influential Santi Cazorla but also Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny – were largely overrun.

Up front, Arsenal appeared to have no focal point. At times, it wasn’t even clear whether Alexis Sanchez or Theo Walcott – or neither – was supposed to be spearheading their attack.

And this, unfortunately, has become a familiar tale whenever the Gunners visit Stamford Bridge in recent years.

It was somewhat disturbing that Wenger chose to focus on the injury to Hector Bellerin, who appeared to take a knock from Marcos Alonso as he attempted to prevent Chelsea’s opening goal.

Yes, it may well have been a foul. But sometimes decisions go against a team. What is more important is the way they respond – especially when there are 75 minutes still to play.

In fact, sometimes that perceived injustice can galvanise a team – yet that never seems to happen for Arsenal when they have a big game away from home.

Apart from a brief flurry towards the end of the first half, the Gunners did little to test Thibaut Courtois. There was always a sense of inevitability, apparent to both sets of fans – and perhaps to the likes of Cesc Fabregas as well.

It was no surprise to hear Chelsea supporters direct their mocking refrain of ‘Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay’ towards the Arsenal manager, looking on from his unfamiliar vantage point in the stand.

They know full well that, if Wenger does extend his stagnating reign at the Emirates even further, they have every chance of enjoying themselves at Arsenal’s expense yet again next season.

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