Buck stops with Arsene Wenger as Arsenal begin in typically shoddy style
There are things that are a cast-iron certainty in this world. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west; the sky is blue and grass is green; and Arsenal will begin a Premier League season poorly because they're underprepared and don't have a squad that can cope.
So it was again on Sunday. As the sun moved west across a blue north London sky, the green grass of the Emirates pitch saw the Gunners capitulate in the second half, conceding three goals in 14 minutes to go 4-1 down, before goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers added some respectability to the scoreline.
Only once in the last seven seasons have Arsenal won on the opening weekend. That was in 2014-15 when an injury-time goal from Aaron Ramsey sealed an unconvincing 2-1 win over Crystal Palace. In the other six, Arsenal have lost three and drawn three. The weight of evidence tells you this is not simply the effects of missing players who were at the European Championships, but a consistent, endemic failure to get a team ready for the first game of the season.
Last week after a friendly win over Manchester City, Arsene Wenger declared his players were in good shape for the new campaign, saying: "We could see that we have played together for a while now, so there's a good fluidity and understanding in our game ... physically we look ready."
So it was confusing to hear him say almost the opposite after the Liverpool game.
"Physically we are not ready," he said.
"We are not capable of maintaining the level, because not all the players have the same level of preparation."
Aside from the very obvious questions that must be then asked over Wenger's training and fitness methods, the Liverpool defeat was also a consequence of the club's dithering and prevarication in the transfer market this summer. They tried to buy Jamie Vardy from Leicester in early June, a deal which very quickly died, yet he were are over two months later and Arsenal still have not addressed what is clearly a key problem for the team.
If you attempt to sign somebody in June, it highlights your need for that player, and making it a priority so early in the summer speaks to the urgency of that need. Did they run out of ideas? Was Vardy it? Have they been unable to identify a player of similar calibre or skill set in the market since? Whatever the reason, or combination thereof, it's a worry that nothing has been done.
Similarly, the need for a central defender was blindingly obvious the moment Per Mertesacker injured his knee against Lens on July 22. That gave Arsenal over three weeks to find somebody before the start of the new season. Doing nothing was a risk, and when Gabriel was injured last weekend it meant the inaction was likely to be very damaging.
Having to play a central-defensive partnership of Rob Holding -- just 20 and making his Premier League debut -- and Calum Chambers was always unlikely to provide the team with the defensive solidity it needed. The two young Englishmen battled hard and weren't directly at fault, but it's hard to imagine Arsenal being torn apart so easily with a more experienced pair at the heart of their defence.
Ultimately, the buck stops with Wenger and his reluctance to do the business Arsenal need to do. Some will point to majority shareholder Stan Kroenke as part of the problem, and it's clear he is far from ideal as an owner. He's an absentee landlord who has long been criticised by the fans.
Yet Arsenal, and Wenger himself, have consistently said there are no restrictions placed on them from Kroenke over how much money can be spent. When it comes right down to it, the reason Arsenal don't spend is Wenger.
When he feels a player will give the team something better, he'll spend what it takes -- as evidenced by big money captures like £42.5 million Mesut Ozil, £35 million Alexis Sanchez and £35 million Granit Xhaka. However, if he has any doubts at all about the player's quality in relation to his price tag, he won't do the deal.
If you look at it objectively, that's not a bad philosophy, because in the end you want to bring in players who will improve your team. But when that mindset inhibits you from doing what absolutely needs to be done -- in this case a central defender and a striker before the start of the season -- then something has to give.
It's Wenger's job to prepare his team physically for the start of the season and to ensure that he has a squad that has the quality and depth to compete. On both counts this summer he has failed, and that was evidenced in the Liverpool defeat.
Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.