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EPL Match Day 31: Arsenal v Blackpool: Match Preview
I am giving up any type of prognosticaction on this team. Don’t read that as I have given up on this team – that I will never do. I always want Arsenal to win but right now it is very hard to do so. On paper everything points to an Arsenal mauling of Blackpool. On the pitch – well not so much.
Let’s face it right now 2nd place is a little flattering to this club. Actually its flattering to the whole league. The whole damn league is poor this season. Everyone talks about the smaller teams catching up. I don’t think so. Its more the bigger clubs coming down. And Arsenal are one of those clubs who right now seem to continually come down to the level of their competition.
Sure, they are on a run of 13 unbeaten league matches but the last 3 have all been draws. Sure their defence has let in less goals than Man United’s (yes, that is a fact) but they are not closing out opponents they should be doing so. It is frustrating and frankly there is no logical explanation to it. Sorry, I don’t buy into the fact that they are not good enough. Van Persie, Fabregas, Walcott, Wilshere, Arshavin, Sagna, Song and Nasri could play for pretty much any club in Europe. The fact they are often linked to almost every club in Europe attests to that.
To me it all comes down to the mental aspect of the game. Arsenal simply cannot go into a game 0-0 at the half or down at the half. They simply have not shown the mental ability to dig down when they need. That’s not entirely true they have done it on a few occassions but not with any regularity. When they are stiffled by ten men behind the ball or can’t break a team down, self-doubt creeps in.
I read an interesting article that talked about the mental side of the game and it basically it looked at the fact that everyone agrees that sports is 90% mental but sports teams spend less than 10% of the time preparing their players for it. The focus on the mental aspect of individuyal sports is well known and proven. Tiger Woods before his debacle of a year – was known for as much of his mental preparation as he was for his physical game. He simply was clutch because he was mentally prepared.
I hate United. But I respect them because even in a year when nearly everyone agreees this is one of the worst built United squads – they continue to achieve. I believe that is as much down to the way Fergueson has them prepared mentally to win as it is to their talents. It seems unconceviable to me that Wenger, a man who relies heavily on a a psychological evaluation of his younger talent doesn’t in some way employ the same preparation once his players get into the senior squad.
It is clear that there is plenty of talent on this club. If you deny that then you truly don’t have an objective bone in your body and you simply focus on the negative. But talent can only get you so far. You need to have the mental edge to carry you over the barriers that pop up in the course of a season. The league is is a grind – it is filled with peaks and valleys. Fans can accept that – what they can’t accept is capitulating because of self-doubt that players portray when things don’t go right.
My biggest focal point on this is Andrei Arshavin. I’ve been very critical of Andrei’s continual inability to “care” about the match he is playing in. I am sure a lot of that is the mental aspect of the game for him. Andrei wants to succeed when he displays his “little engine” mentality that much is evident. But when it doesn’t go right for him he gives in to the negativity. He pouts, he doesn’t particpate and he disappears for 10-15 minutes per match.
Now look there are other issues that are going on with this club. I recognize that. But outside of anything else what is going wrong on the pitch is as much mental as it is physical. The wins over Chelsea and Barcelona were not deceptions. They clearly showed what this team is capable of. But the draw at Newcastle shows what happens when this team gets unfocused or lets doubt creep into their game. Once that happens it all goes wrong.
I know I have spent a lot of time talking about this. But it is very hard to focus in on the match when we talk about the same thing week in and week out. Arsenal’s destiny is clearly in their own hands. Where they finish the league depends on what they do on the pitch. They should beat the lesser opponents. But they aren’t – not right now at least. Like I said last week , this unbeaten run is very similar to United’s form in the early season, you don’t lose, but you don’t win either. Our problem is this run of form comes in the most critical time of the season.
How the Match Should Play Out:
Oh who knows. You’ve got a Blackpool squad with zero confidence and an Arsenal squad with zero confidence. What does that mean? Who knows? An attack of Nasri, Van Persie and Arshavin should be enought to counter anything Blackpool has. And you have to think that maybe getting away from the Emriates might relax the boys so it is likely that Arsenal will play with a little more flair. Finally, and I can’t stress this enough – Blackpool should not be talken of lightly as some minnow – they are getting big scalps. They should be recognized for a club who is in a dogfight and should be treated as such by the fans and by the players.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal: Samir Nasri. Even with his dip in form, Nasri made the short list of PFA Player of the Year. Our lack of form these last three games are down to his. Arsenal need him to fire as much as they need Van Persie.
Blackpool: Charlie Adam. He is on a metoric rise to the top. Will likely be at one of the big clubs next season.
Probable Starting XI:
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Denilson (toe) Djourou (shoulder) Fabianksi (shoulder) Szczesny (finger) Vermaelen (achilles) Walcott (D – ankle) Sagna (D – knee)
Blackpool:Gilks (knee) Basham (knee) Clarke (knee)
Last Meeting (EPL):
Arsenal (away): 2.1
Blackpool (home): 1.9
Arsenal: Van Persie 15 (11 league) Nasri 14 (9 league)
Blackpool: 10 (10 league) Adam: 10 (9 league)
Referee: Lee Mason
Assistant Referees: Andy Halliday & Mick McDonough
Fourth Official: Mark Halsey
US: Foxsoccer.tv 0830 AM EST
UK: Sky Sports 1 1330 BST
GAMEDAY CHAT: It’s Open!!!!!! www.youaremyarsenal.com/gamedaychat
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS:
If you believe hat where’s there is smoke there’s fire than you have to lend some credibility to the story the Daily Mail ran on Saturday of the possible Arsenal Summer Clearing Sale. Sure, papers get it wrong from time to time (don’t I know it) but in a lot of cases even if the story doesn’t happen, a lot of these stories come from inside the club – which means to me at least – at some level it has been talked about. The Mail isn’t always the best soource. They’ve been actually known to rip off “exclusives” from our friends over at Young Guns without attribution but they’ve been getting a few right lately.
This all dovetails into what we’ve been saying and what moutpieces for the club (Bob Wilson and Martin Keown) have been saying and that is Wenger plans to clear out the club this summer – the end of the five year plan hasn’t worked and he sees it. Now, all that is well and good but as most of my readers can attest to – seeing is beliving.
Also, I wanted to touch briefly on comments made by Peter Hill-Wood in response to fan criticism leveled at Wenger. I’ve been big on placing blame at the board’s feet and frankly the comments he made about AST today are actually astounding and go to the level of myopic visison that exists within the club. In a utshell Hill-Wood has threatened to remove any privleges the AST continues to have if it goes with its continued criticism. And while I am sure it won’t be any skin off the club’s back – it will likely only raise the din if the board decide to go through with it.
They have to know that and I think this is just a public slap to AST who is being told to “know your role” by the Chairman of the Board. Frankly, Hill-Wood should never speak again he only makes the situation worse. Wenger went on an impassioned interview where he defended himself, the club and it’s policies. Some of it seemed well, a little unhinged and that is coming from me a supporter of his.
But I am reserving my rights on that support. I am going to take a wait and see approach. If I see an effort to shift the dead weight and I mean absolute clonker players – I am looking at you Denilson – then I may take a glimer of hope that the issues are going to get resolved. I don’t need to see big money spends. I need to see an effort to refocus and support a team that has talent to compete but continues to fall short.
Finally for those of us that are eternal optmists and need some lifting up – remember this:
Arsenal are still the best squad on the road with 7 (W) 5 (D) and 2 (L). Only Chelsea and Man City have conceded less goals than Arsenal. And only Chelsea and Man City again – have more clean sheets than Arsenal.
And now for inspiration I give you an Arsenal video voiced over by Al Pacino in his classic motivation speech in Any Given Sunday. Given that we now play all but one match on Sunday and after you listen to the speech it can certainly apply to Arsenal – here it is.