One of Us Speaks: Do We Make Monsters?
As much as I love the smell of Napalm in the mornings, I do like a Friday when I get a lie-in. Here’s Big Al weaving his lyrical magic…
Other than the victory itself, two remarkable things happened during the win over Sunderland. Tomas Rosicky transported us back to late-2007 with a heartening display of subtle passing, balance, close control and pace that had been conspicuous in its’ absence.
Likewise Andrei Arshavin’s performance, the like of which we haven’t seen for two years. I know his contribution last season was much overlooked but on Sunday he played as if he knew he was miles better than everyone else on the pitch.
31 and 30 respectively, the pair are at an age when they should be leading by example. Perhaps it’s unrealistic but I’ve often hoped our younger players would look to Rosicky and Arshavin for some degree of guidance, but when things started to turn last season they were fumbling for form just like everyone else. In fact, Arshavin had been playing far below his level for quite some time.
In all this time their talent has never been in doubt, which is why their performances last weekend got me thinking about the importance of motivation and player psychology, along with the various complicated dynamics involved. It’s stuff that I can’t hope to grasp in a year, let alone one afternoon.
It’s all new to me but that won’t stop me from jotting down some stolen random thoughts:
While it obviously works wonders for the mental shape of a team to be doing well, a run of wins brings its own demands; coaches will have to work hard to keep their players focused and humble. That’s because of the inevitability of defeat in sport. After all, there are only four trophies worth winning for any club so even the very best sides will taste bitter disappointment each year, every player will have bad days.
Needless to say, there’s more to a pro than just having the right physique and talent. A player has to be ready to face the various strange hands they can be dealt in an unpredictable environment. Confidence is vital but just as important is the source from which players draw on their assurance.
It’s dangerous for a player to base his confidence on a team’s results, and tell himself, “we’ve been winning games and I’m playing well, so I’m a good player.” Because, what does he tell himself when the team starts losing?
For all the negative references to “cosseting”, I think managers actively strive to build individual’s egos to counter the danger of a team crash. If these guys are too reliant on the performance of the team, or any external factor like crowd response or bad press, to reinforce self-belief, when the collapse happens it could be disastrous for them.
On the contrary they need to be drawing more on something from within. For a few years it looked like we either encouraged or cultivated a certain trait amongst some of our players. Motivation founded on ego.
This way a young team could more easily recover from a setback – our players could extricate themselves from the morale-sapping baggage that accompanies defeat by making themselves feel that they weren’t responsible. Team victories wouldn’t make too much difference to a player’s sense of self-worth; rather they’d have a constant stream of confidence based on their faith in them, irrespective of short-term form.
But here’s the thing; we went to pieces eight months ago and have only recently shown signs of recovering. There’s no way we’d encourage our individual players to define their capabilities by team results, but is it possible that we went too far the other way, and developed a team of egos unable to trust each other?
One of the most exasperating things last summer was reading our players, from Cesc to Nasri to Bendtner bemoan the lack of trophies at Arsenal, as if they had no role in that same absence of team achievement.
This was Wenger this week:
It was a very difficult summer because half the dressing room wanted to leave. You’re preparing for a season where you don’t know who’s going to come in, the players who are staying are asking themselves what’s going on at the club, you’ve got a pre-season tour of Asia. It was extraordinarily difficult.
Denilson in May:
This has been the worst season of my life and I am so upset, so frustrated.
I am a winner and I came here to win trophies but I’ve been here for five years and won nothing (…) this is not a sudden decision. I made up my mind eight months ago.
I always thought he was underrated, but come on – those comments made it seem like he wasn’t living in the real world, enough to make me want to get to the bottom of them. Arsène Wenger’s often painted as an indulging kind of guy, but Denilson and Bendtner displayed a complete absence of self-awareness.
So we had relative youngsters in the side that had made up their mind the season wasn’t going to be a success and that Arsenal wasn’t the club for them, even while we were still in four competitions. Nasri started forcing a move the same month we beat Barcelona at home. And it’s little wonder Denilson and Bendtner offered us little when they did make an appearance last season.
So over the past five years or so I feel we’ve inadvertently encouraged our young players to aspire beyond Arsenal, which has helped them to a certain amount of short term success, but might have harmed the club in the long run.
Still, as an awkward afterthought, and on the topic of motivation, I’d like to think that Arshavin and Rosicky may yet shine for us this season with the prospect of what could be their last international tournament on the horizon next summer.