Is The Squad Mentally Tough Enough To Put That In Their Pipe And Smoke It
The drawback of European football’s absence from the remainder of Arsenal’s fixture list is that there is no immediate focus to divert attention from QPRs victory at the weekend. We have to amuse ourselves until the visit of Manchester City on Sunday takes over. Of course, it is starting to already with the lessons of Saturday to be learned and mentally consumed. It is that which provides one lesson that is seemingly never learned; overconfidence.
That was not unique to Arsenal; footballers at all levels become over-confident at some point, avert their gaze from the matter at hand and lose when they should win. It is an enduring theme through the history of the game, the shock result and one of the reasons that football is universally loved; that one moment in time, in a season when the bigger fish are slapped across the face by a smaller fish’s tail. Unless you are the big fish.
Arsenal found that out on Saturday and Le Boss will be no nearer to understanding why it happened than he has been at any point in his managerial career. EvenThe Invincibles were guilty of that; the defeat at home to Chelsea in what turned out to be a weak Champions League must surely gall the manager as much as Paris. They thought they had done the hard work in getting a scoring draw at Stamford Bridge but were undone at Highbury.
It is difficult to explain because we prepared as usual. Maybe we sensed it would be easier than usual and once you have that in your heads it is difficult to come back to reality. We got a reality check. I just believe that our performance was not at the level we have recently produced.
The impact is going to be interesting to measure. History this season favours the squad to respond positively; only once have they succumbed to consecutive League defeats when Swansea City and Manchester United emerged victorious in what was the poorest January return of Wenger’s tenure. To underline that history, every away defeat this season has been followed by a win in the next home game. The players have shown the ability to respond positively to their adversity.
There is a danger of taking that granted, that the win will come which would be dangerously over-confident. The spiral is there to engulf the squad and this must be guarded against. I am sure that this will be the case. City provide an interesting opponent, not just for their squad and the contrast in money spent. There can be no argument that they have underachieved this season. The investment demanded at least some silverware and they are going to end with nothing in all likelihood. That casts telling judgements about their manager, their organisation and the players. Collectively, it is the most talented squad that could be mustered in the Summer yet there remain question marks over their mentality along with the abilities of the manager and staff to motivate them.
By the time kick-off comes on Sunday, they may require a win to keep their faint title hopes flickering. Even then it is case of prolonging the mathematical agonies. City thought that their derby encounter with United on April 30th would decide the title. Defeat for them this weekend coupled with a United win makes it more likely that they will be giving their city rivals a Guard of Honour onto the pitch. That said, I would not expect them to provide such recognition given their utter lack of anything resembling class.
Arsenal have their own pressures to deal with, not least of which is finishing third. The squad is capable of doing that, mentally and physically. It is interesting the perception change in the media, underlining the fickleness of their views, that Spurs are now being proclaimed as a great team with five points out of the last nine, compared to Arsenal’s six from the same three game period. You would have thought that the public utterances of Bale and van der Vaart would be enough to ensure Arsenal players are fully motivated and focussed; it also misses the point that Sunderland are tougher opponents than they are being given credit for. Whilst Tottenham appear to have the kinder run-in on paper, their recent failures highlight that football is not played on paper.
Elsewhere, Yann M‘Vila stoked up the transfer auction by claiming that he wants to go where the fun is. Puritanical England may not be his best option where Marouane Chamakh‘s failure to indulge in self-flagellation following the defeat at Loftus Road is apparently big news. Let’s be honest, the only reason that Arsène is going to be annoyed is that he was not invited.