In the end, they did it. After 38 games and a...
At Arsenal it’s a question of confidence
Dr. Robin Vealey, a specialist in Sports Psychology describes confidence as “the belief or degree of certainty individuals possess about their ability to be successful in sport”. When players are confident they can perform at optimal levels and it is rare for successful players to have a persistent lack of confidence.
Having or maintaining a general state of positive confidence is vital for players to overcome and recovering from any on the field setbacks such as a defeat or a poor performance.
There are many characteristics which reflect a player’s confidence and this can be observed during training and games through body language and verbal comments. The following is based on Bill Beswick’s (psychologist in English professional soccer) work in football and are characteristics of players who are high in confidence.
- high self-belief – a real “I can do it” attitude
- projecting a positive image through good body language
- enjoying and having fun in competition and training
- not unduly worried about losing or consequences
- calm, collected, concentrated, and high self-control
- don’t feel the need to impress others
- accept themselves for the way they are whilst understanding their strengths and weaknesses
On the surface, Beswick’s characteristics may be hard for us all to witness in players but they are there and they are obtained by through good coaching and the proper management of players. Good confidence is essential for success in the game.
So why all this psychological talk? Why focus on the science of the sport on a blog dedicated to Arsenal. Because confidence seems to be at the core of what is still wrong with Arsenal and slowly, very slowly we seem to be getting out of the rut (fingers crossed).
To make my point I want to focus in on the second Schalke tie from this year’s UCL campaign. Arsenal came out and quickly took control of the game and went up 2-0 on some superb play. But even then the Gunners as a unit still seemed wobbly. Play was slow, indecisive and after Schalke got their first there was a further dip in performance.
The second Schalke goal was inevitable. Now, people will argue that it was inevitable because the defensive play was poor or players failed to make appropriate assignments. And that is part of it. But when those mistakes play they affect the psyche of not only the individual player but the unit as a whole as players begin to think “here we go again”
When that happens and it can happen quickly, things can change in a player’s approach to the game in question and the situation on the field.
Arsenal have now gone on a 4 game run without losing. If we are fair none of those matches have been emphatic. The 5-2 win over Tottenham was likely to be a slugfest until Adebayor was sent off. So we’ll not properly know what went on over there had it been 11v11. However the affects of the win cannot be under estimated.
Teams seize upon any moment, good or bad, As we saw 2 years ago the loss to Birmingham and the prior 4-4 draw with Newcastle were catalysts for a downward spiral that saw Arsenal go from contenders to suffering the acrimony of another year without trophies.
However, last season, the 5-2 win versus Spurs turned around a season that looked like something akin to the Batan death march for most of it. The point is, that moments can have an effect. And they can linger/last for a while.
But confidence more than anything seems to be slowly returning to the club. They are still struggling a little bit. Self-doubt or better yet collective self-doubt is still prevalent. People don’t want to make mistakes. Look no further than the start to the Spurs game and the first half of last night’s Champion’s League tie. The play was awkward, errant passes, stupid decisions.
Now people will argue that maybe those players on the pitch just weren’t good enough. You won’t be surprised that I don’t buy that. Not because I don’t think there aren’t players who don’t deserve to be at Arsenal but because the players we have for the most part were the same players that up until the Chelsea match were in such good form.
The other night on Match of the Day – after the Tottenham win, Harry Redknapp didn’t think this Arsenal squad was any good. This was promptly jumped on by Vincent Kompany who declared Arsenal the best team they’ve played against in the league this season. Who’s right or who’s wrong? Well, if City is the benchmark then you’d have to go with Kompany.
Arsenal were in control of that match throughout and were unlucky to come out with a draw. I don’t seldom buy into the idea that we deserved more, I’ve always been the kind of person who says we deserve the score we end up with. But I felt coming out of that match Arsenal did deserve more. And for the most part, save some injuries to some players, the team is the same team that was in a rut for the last month.
I go back to the whole premise here, that confidence is the key. Players are starting to once again show the confidence they displayed early on. Both Cazorla and Podolski had been absent for much of the team’s poor run. They’d either looked gassed, displayed poor decision making and overall looked out of form. That led to a downward spiral of form.
Fast forward to the Spurs match and both players looked to be coming back into their own. Cazorla with the ball didn’t make a pass, even the spectacular ones, that looked out of place. Podolski not only was a threat down the wing but he was back and engaged in defense. Something he hadn’t been. The form of the German was culminated in a sublime volley in the Champion’s League that rivals the one Van Persie scored against Everton.
Clearly something has happened. Both players during long spells of the poor run simply looked out of it. Their heads were down, their body language told a story of players without answers. But now, there is energy and the remnants of belief.
My final example of effects of confidence on a player is Olivier Giroud. The former co-leading scorer in Ligue 1 came to Arsenal with a lot of question marks. Some people expected a replacement for Robin Van Persie, others expect a run like Marouane Chamakh and others, well we were just waiting to see how he would develop.
His start didn’t go to well. He had chances but they went wide, were amiss or just not there. But he didn’t stop trying and every time he went out there he kept working. He would make good runs off the ball, bring players into the run of play or fight to win balls, but the end product wasn’t there and for a striker that’s the money.
The thing is, Giroud comes across as a very confident individual. And through his interviews and his play you knew that it was only a matter of time. Well, some of us knew. Many, were ready to jump on the Chamakh bandwagon. But as games went on, he continued to improve. Arsenal were more inclined to play to his strengths as he got a run of games. And then suddenly BAM – 5 goals in 6 matches. And when he isn’t banging them in, he is offering up assists like the two he came up with last night in the Champion’s League.
The success Giroud is starting to feel is only going to enhance his confidence. It is going to allow him to take further chances and as he securely gets into the English Game, he is only going to get better. He has the skill and the confidence to do so. He won’t ever replace Van Persie
Confidence – it doesn’t happen right away. It will take time. But as it builds it can sustain itself – both positively and negatively. Over the course of a 9 month season, there are ebbs and flows. Confidence wanes and rises and we hopefully are on the start of an upswing.
Sports are as much mental as they are physical – maybe even moreso. Let’s hope that after these last two displays that the mindset is positive and stays that way for a while.