Wenger may coddle his "kids", but recent encounters against Chelsea and Manchester United have been the equivalent of corporal punishment. And the evidence so far is that they don't learn their lesson.
The trouble with a philosophy like Wenger's is that one can never wholly dismiss it, because it is all about "the future". But people are slowly coming to realise that this future may never come about. The only way to judge the project right now is to assess its progress, and last Sunday's game suggested that there has been precious little.
I still sometimes watch my 97/98 season review on video, to remind myself of that feeling of success. The problem being, nostalgia can never truly substitute for the warmth of the moment, the distance just leaves you cold. But there's an interview with Tony Adams in which he states his lack of belief in "transition"- as in, the notion that a "transitional season" is an excuse for a dip in performances. God knows what Adams thinks of the last five seasons at his former club. We seem to be lost in a fog of hypotheticals. It's understandable, because what else can one cling to after an experience like Sunday's? But what Wenger will find is that selling a POSSIBLE future is no longer adequate. I'm glad for another hammering, in a way, because its symmetry with last season's game hammers an important point home. There has, in the space of a year, been no change.
While watching Arsenal, I'm often left cursing individuals. We're all fond of pointing at someone and saying he's not good enough. But let's interrogate that assumption. Think of the team that taught us our latest lesson. What is it that makes Darren Fletcher or Park Ji-Sung "good enough" for the biggest club in England? Is it simple talent? Only to a small degree. The definitive factors are work-rate, character. People who will subordinate themselves to a greater cause, something bigger than themselves- isn't that what football is?
Now, think of Arsene Wenger, and the team he's been building and rebuilding since 2004. Has he been using the same criteria as Alex Ferguson? Does he believe that talent alone is enough? Watching the game on Sunday, it was the team that has won it all that was showing the greater desire, against one that has achieved nothing. How do you explain that? Watch Denilson's non-attempts at defensive action in the build-up to all three goals. What I see is a man who has been constantly indulged, and that is emblematic of the team as a whole. Wayne Rooney was United's sole striker and he did more tracking back than Rosicky, Nasri and Arshavin put together.
Wenger espouses the same team ethic that characterises United's greatness but on days like Sunday it rings hollow. Sure, there is a unity to Arsenal as an attacking force, but when attacks break down the attitude seems to be, "leave it to Gallas and Vermaelen and Song". Not spending money to replace players we deem unfit to wear the shirt is one thing, but when those same players seem unwilling to fight for the shirt, well that is worrying indeed.
Playing Chelsea straight away is surely a perverse kind of blessing. Questions have been raised that no routine win against Premiership also-rans would answer. The players have one last opportunity, as far as I'm concerned, to show that their manager has not lost touch with reality, and that they alone can turn Arsenal back into a winning machine. They can lose, but they had better not lose the same way, or else the rest of 09/10 becomes an interminable wait for a Summer in which every fan will be hoping for Big Changes.