The Godfather: Part III centres around Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone as he attempts to leave a life of villainy behind him. But as he stands on the verge of a deal that would take him out of the family business for good, his mafia cronies sabotage his plans, and send him spiralling back into the world of crime.
In the scene where it all comes to a head, Pacino delivers one of the most famous lines in 90s cinema, perfectly portraying the mentality of a defeated man coming to terms with the fact he will never escape the vicious cycle he has created for himself.
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
– Michael Corleone
Pacino’s masterful performance was delivered more than 30 years ago, but it perfectly sums up where Arsenal fans are right now.
Because after six wins from seven in all competitions, an FA Cup defeat at Southampton feels as if it has left them right back where they started.
Mikel Arteta rung the changes for his side’s trip to the south coast, something that seemed like a mistake right off the bat from a manager who knows the value of the competition – winning it last season essentially kept him in a job throughout a turbulent start to this campaign.
But despite the rotation, the players brought in should have been enough to get the job done. Nicolas Pepe, Willian, Gabriel and Hector Bellerin were among those recalled after the 3-0 win at Newcastle, and they each made exactly the wrong kind of impression.
There were flashes of good play. Eddie Nketiah and Nicolas Pepe occasionally showed promise with their link-up play, but the fact the Gunners failed to register a shot on target until the 58th minute tells you all you need to know about the urgency and fluidity of their performance.
There was so much wrong with their display going forward. Willian, deployed in a central attacking midfield role, displayed everything Chelsea fans warned of and more, exuding the passive disinterest of a player secure in a long-term contract and phoning it in. Ozil 2.0 is a notch too far at this stage, but I mean…
Elsewhere, Pepe was mostly anonymous off the right, Nketiah looked isolated and frustrated, and even Gabriel Martinelli – normally a livewire even in defeat – was a passenger.
They looked disjointed at the back, Southampton’s opening goal coming from an innocuous cross that two Arsenal defenders connected with but still failed to repel from Bernd Leno’s goal. It perhaps said it all that, within 70 minutes, Arteta had used up all of his subs to bring in players who started their previous match.
Arteta had lost some faith in many of those recalled for the trip south, but he would have been hopeful that Pepe, Willian et al. could at least provide relief while youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka shoulder the burden in the Premier League.
Yet when he called upon them to do so, he was left with the bitter taste of failure to which Arsenal fans have become all too accustomed over the past decade-and-a-half.
They will have to bounce back quickly to reassure fans, and themselves, that this is not the start of another descent into mediocrity.
They face Southampton again at the same venue on Tuesday night. As Mario Puzo once said, revenge is a dish best served cold.