This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.
Another year has passed. New influxes of money have threatened to transform the face of the game, and the upheaval in the Premier League has been huge. José Mourinho's inexplicable loss of control while Chelsea imploded wasn't even the biggest story of the season. The incredible rise of Leicester City has provided perhaps the greatest fairytale in English football history. Tottenham have cobbled together a genuine title challenge from the ashes of the past few years. Manchester United have continued to struggle under their new elder statesman. The game has changed, old empires have fallen and new ones have risen.
And what of Arsenal? They're still… well, just Arsenal, really.
It's incredible: no matter what happens over the course of the year, Arsenal will always remain the same. It seems at this point that not even a nuclear apocalypse could prevent their traditional boom-bust-finish-fourth season. Even when things are as mad as this – and so many of the problems that have been identified as the cause of their woes over the years have supposedly been solved – they remain the same. The addition of proven world-class players and a brilliant goalkeeper have done nothing. John Peel once said that The Fall were always different, but always the same. Arsenal can't even seem to aspire to that – Wenger is more Bob Dylan than Mark E Smith, every "a stunning return to form" four-out-of-five-stars Guardian review ultimately passing into increasing irrelevance and forgettability. We'll miss him when he's gone, but until then, who's listening?
Talk of a serious mentality problem at Arsenal is obvious, but it's the way it happens that really makes no sense. It would be understandable if Petr Cech, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil simply bought into the group complacency and ended up haunted by the spectre of the bottle-jobs they replaced, turning into meek shadows of their former selves. But this has not occurred. They remain brilliant, decisive, inspiring players, yet Arsenal remain a timid and flawed outfit. Plenty of other clubs have shown that a couple of world-class players can elevate a team beyond themselves – Suarez for Liverpool, Bale at Spurs – yet Arsenal seem as though they'd need such a player in every position before they seriously looked like challengers. And even then…
Is it really possible that the rest of the rabble can drag the team down that much? Theo Walcott captaining and leading the injury and terror-prone to fall apart yet again while the genuinely great players rage away in futility? Perhaps. Cech aside, the spine of the team is still full of unreliable players, and the inconsistency of the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny is never far from the source of their struggle. Then, of course, there's the guy up front: Olivier Giroud.
Teams always seem to be defined and remembered by their strikers, from Eric Cantona to Alan Shearer to Andriy Voronin. Recent years have been no different. Chelsea's dirtiness, rule-bending and subsequent inexplicable decline were all present in Diego Costa. The stalling then foundering of Manchester United were encapsulated in Wayne Rooney. Riyad Mahrez has been Leicester's best player, but their high-energy, flat-out underdog stylings are best summed up by striker Jamie Vardy.
Arsenal have Giroud – and that's why they won't have a Premier League title at the end of the season.
Giroud seems almost too perfect for this Arsenal side, as though he was drawn up in a create-a-character mode as Wenger's ideal striker. He's everything Arsenal are about – looking far better on paper than in reality and the relentless flat-track bullying help to divide the fanbase from week to week, just as as his combination of good looks and spinelessness inspire wildly alternating feelings of sexual lust and utter hatred. Guaranteed to knock in a great third goal against Norwich in a rout, guaranteed to miss from a yard out at Stamford Bridge. It's just too damn real at times.
It's harsh on the man. He doesn't fit into the usual blueprint of a flawed Arsenal player, all technical ability and no consistency. He's an average player, a solid striker built off the back of the near-post run and a decent physique, barely any different to Troy Deeney or Charlie Austin. In a good, creative, dominant side like Arsenal, it stands to reason he'd score plenty of goals, though never from half-chances, or taking the difficult opportunities to settle nervy games against top teams. That's an obvious flaw in the thinking, and not really the fault of the man himself.
But then he's never inconsistent at all: he is simply guaranteed to miss sitters in games of any importance. He's taken mental fragility to levels of predictability and regularity previously unheard of. Simply running around at Chelsea, not really getting into the game and thundering a couple of half-chances straight at the keeper would be fine, a mere illustration of his status as a good-but-not-great striker. Instead, he finds one-on-ones and open goals, and manages to scuff it wide or have the ball roll up his leg; his pass to no one against Barcelona has quickly become a cult favourite.
Having beaten Leicester last month to inch within two points of the Foxes, Arsenal have subsequently conspired to fall apart in a manner even their misfit progenitors of 2009 would wince at. The only surprise is that both player and team have managed to find a way to make unreliability predictable. They may always be the same, but they're so good at it that even now, after all these years, it still surprises us.
If that old line about doing the same thing over and over again rings true, Wenger and Giroud have made madmen of us all. Perhaps there's something to be respected in that.