It ought to have been a day of celebration.
This was Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge of Arsenal, and Gunners fans hoped for a day to remember. Unfortunately, their performance against Chelsea is one all Arsenal supporters will be desperate to forget.
Saturday's 6-0 result equals Wenger’s worst-ever Premier League defeat: the 8-2 at Old Trafford in 2011. However, on that day, there were mitigating circumstances. Arsenal were in the midst of a troubling transfer window and suffered a defensive injury crisis.
The players Arsenal put out Saturday were more than capable of getting a result. It was packed with experienced internationals and had the first-choice back five intact.
Despite that, they capitulated.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho summed things up rather well, per Sky Sports' Rob Parrish: "I was so happy with the approach, we came to kill and in 10 minutes we destroyed them."
Arsenal fans might feel disappointed, but they can’t claim to be shocked. This is the third time this season that Arsenal have collapsed early on against a title rival.
The first 20 minutes of their trips to Liverpool, City and Chelsea have seen them concede a combined tally of seven goals. Across the 90 minutes, they’ve shipped 17. It’s an astonishing record for a side in the top four.
Given how solid an identical defence looked against Tottenham a week ago, it’s difficult to explain.
There does seem to be an underlying psychological issue, with talent seemingly deserting the players on the very biggest stages. At certain times, Arsenal looked like a side from the third of fourth tier of English football. This played out more like a mismatched cup tie than an elite top-of-the-table clash.
Questions must also be asked of the way the players are prepared for these games. Each of the City, Liverpool and Chelsea matches took place at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday. Could there be something going awry in the planning that explains their slow starts?
Fingers will undoubtedly be pointed at Wenger. His team selection was questionable, opting to stick with the same XI who won in an unconvincing manner at White Hart Lane.
Introducing the battling qualities of Mathieu Flamini into the midfield would have provided Arsenal with a more solid base from which to build. Instead, Wenger fielded the inexperienced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain there and was rewarded a calamitous display that saw the youngster hooked at half-time.
Throughout the 90 minutes, Wenger’s frustration with centre-forward Olivier Giroud was clear.
Several times he threw his hands up in anger at his compatriot's failure to retain the ball or race beyond his marker. However, it was Wenger who placed his faith in Giroud at the start of the season. If he looks tired, it’s because Wenger didn’t see fit to bring in another forward to rotate with him.
This defeat seems to have destroyed any slim hopes Arsenal had of winning the title.
The success of their season now rests on their FA Cup campaign. Although the Gunners remain favourites to win the competition, their capacity to crumble under pressure makes the prospect of a Wembley semi-final a daunting one.
It’s as much a source of stress as comfort.
Arsenal spokesman comes in to say Arsene Wenger will not be attending press conference. Never known that before.— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) March 22, 2014
After the game, Wenger elected not to attend his press conference. Perhaps he simply didn’t know what to say.
At the end of a week where his achievements with the club have been rightfully celebrated, another crushing defeat to a rival will make him carefully consider whether or not he is the right man to take Arsenal forward.