Recovery & Recuperation Take Time
If the received wisdom is to be believed, Manchester City’s five point lead at the top of the table is unassailable. That is somewhat premature; they have won handsomely at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane, whilst beating everyone else save for Fulham where they contrived to drop a two-goal lead.
It is that, and some unimpressive performances in Europe, that might be the foundation of Arsène‘s comments in the wake of the win over West Bromwich Albion,
No team has no vulnerability in our League or any other League. They have quality. They can score goals, they can be efficient. They are the ones to catch.
They had some impressive away results, especially at Tottenham and Man United but we have to see. The potential is there but we will see on a longer period
It is impossible to deny that City have been playing well, passing and moving better and more consistently than any of their rivals. To declare that they will be undefeated through the season is premature; Yaya Toure may regret even hinting that The Invincibles undefeated campaign is something that they aspire to by the time the headline writers have finished with him.
Of course City can do that but so far this season they are the third team to be touted as Champions-elect. Liverpool got the ball rolling after their victory at The Emirates, usurped by United following the 8-2 drubbing. In turn City assumed that mantle with their form culminating in the red carpet being laid to the doors of Eastlands with the 1-6 derby win. There was a common thread in those games; the results were in varying degrees of doubt until a red card tipped the balance decisively in the victors favour.
That is not to say Arsenal are going to challenge for the title. It is most likely that silverware will come from a cup competition. As Wenger was at pains to say, there is too long to go in this campaign for any certainties to be rising. Football is as he put it, too turbulent.
The season is entering a crucial phase, the top seven or eight have a month or so of fixtures against each other. Newcastle in particular, have a tough run but so do City. In the various competitions, the Mancunians face Newcastle, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal (twice) and Bayern Munich before Christmas, as well as the return fixture against Liverpool to welcome in the New Year. Testing times for their squad to prove consistency, especially as the Carling Cup tie is 48 hours after their trip to Anfield.
They will not drop many points in the Premier League in this spell. In these matches, a draw against a close rival is a good result in preventing them from closing the gap. They will win some, fancying their chances in the home games. All Arsenal can do is sit and watch, win their games and believe that the gap can be closed significantly to the top four by the time they visit Eastlands in December.
The real test for Arsenal is handling defeat. Winning is easy for confidence but setbacks define the character of a squad. The current players have a patchy record at best, when it comes to recovery. Last season is not easily forgotten. Yet the current run was born from defeat in the North London Derby. Irrespective of the opposition – which for the most part has been ordinary – the players have shown they can recuperate quickly and hit the ground running.
When a fall happens again, the depth of the thud will depend on the manager as much as the squad. Wenger takes defeat hard, more personally than is given credit for. Sir Bobby Robson famously observed that some members of the Arsenal staff needed to learn how to handle defeat graciously in the aftermath of a Graham Poll inspired Newcastle win at Highbury. Wenger does so, suffering the tag of not caring enough in certain quarters.
It begs the question though: the manager is responsible for the playing staff recovery; who is responsible for his? Essentially himself, is the answer and that does not help to speed things along, frustration burning into the psyche when results are poor.
He has had enough practice this season to know how to quell the raging fires of doubt. Let’s hope the practice is not needed once more for some time yet.