One of the saddest effects of our poor form during 2011 has been seeing how lesser teams no longer fear us.
The psychological advantage of having most opponents assume they would get nothing out of playing us has been whittled away by a series of unfortunate events.
Throwing away a four goal lead at Newcastle; losing to relegation-bound Birmingham in the Carling Cup Final; league defeats to the likes of West Brom, Stoke and Bolton:
All these and more have turned our shiny armour of invincibility into a tattered and battered old coat of rusty chain mail, pock-marked with holes.
Do you remember how it used to be?
From Arsène Wenger’s first Double-winning side right through to the best free-flowing days of the ‘Fabregas era’, most other teams were terrified of playing us.
They would look at the fixture list for the following weekend, see that they were up against The Arsenal and immediately go weak at the knees.
On match days, as they lined up in the tunnel alongside the likes of Bergkamp, Henry, Pires, Vieira, Adams, Bould, Campbell, Seaman, Keown, Ljungberg, Overmars, Lehmann, Fabregas, opposition players would have involuntary wee-wee incidents in their shorts.
It is rumoured that some managers had to use a cattle prod to get their players out of the safety of the dressing room when we were in town.
And I have it on good authority that at least two EPL clubs considered switching to brown shorts precisely to avoid the embarrassment of having what you might call “fear stains” on display.
Any sports psychologist will tell you that if you can win the battle in the mind, you will win it on the field of play.
We used to be so good at getting inside our opponents’ heads that most teams were beaten before they walked onto the pitch – you could see it in their eyes (and their shorts).
Lately only the Manchester branch of Surrey United have had that aura, although their own grip on the Fear Factor may take some time to recover after the humiliation at the hands of their lottery-winning neighbours.
Indeed it is the Sky Blue half of Manchester that can now truly be said to make opponents quake at the mere prospect of playing them.
So, having lost our fearsomeness, can we regain it?
I believe the answer is ‘yes’ – and, further, that we have already made some encouraging baby steps on the path to once again being truly dreaded by the opposition.
Crucial to our ability to inspire terror is one man. You won’t be surprised to know I’m referring to our very own Prince of Strikers, Robin van Persie.
Mid-to-low ranking teams usually set out with a game plan to stop Arsenal rather than outplay us. And with our recent history of defending set pieces (where we’ve been as watertight as a pair of paper knickers) they rightly feel that if they succeed in stopping us, they have every chance of grabbing a goal or two at the other end.
But there are some strikers, at certain periods of their careers, who are simply unstoppable.
Thierry Henry had it for years. Ruud van Nostrelflair had it for a while. Cristiano Ronaldo had it in England and now Spain. Drogba used to have it. Lionel Messi has it.
And Prince Robin has it, because no striker in England comes close to matching his hit rate right now.
And that inspires fear – even terror – in the hearts of opposing managers and defenders.
In the days of TH14, no matter how well set up a rival defence was, they knew that if Thierry wanted to play, there would be little they could do to stop him.
Of course there are other ways you can inspire fear in your enemies (and I don’t mean the Barton approach of stubbing out a cigar in their eye).
Having a genius midfielder, for example, whose passing can unlock any defence; having a team so technically gifted that they can one-two their way round the most resolute of opponents.
And a rock solid defence can also terrorise the opposing side.
The chant of “one nil to The Arsenal” emerged during the period when we had the ‘famous back six’ of Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Adams, Bould and Keown. The meaning of the chant was not to point out the score for the hard of thinking (there was a big score board screen to do that). It was to let the opposition players and their fans know that they had already lost because there was no way they were going to penetrate our back line.
We’re a long way from inspiring fear defensively or in midfield (although the more victories we accrue the more that will come). But at least at the striking end of things we are on the way.
And if we can get any kind of result at Stamford Bridge this Halloween weekend, we’ll be even better placed to put the frighteners on the (relatively) easy run of opponents we have between then and Christmas.
We need fear to be our friend again.