Maybe it is getting older, or maybe it is having seen how this story turns out on numerous occasions over recent seasons; but as I stood in the rain in the queue for Arsenal tube on Tuesday evening after Arsenal’s latest capitulation, the feeling I had wasn’t one of anger or bitterness or even frustration, it was more one of contemplative resignation and reluctant acceptance of how this season is going to turn out. The same way that any league campaign which has promised anything at all has since we left Highbury back in 2006.
If we are completely honest with ourselves, the warning signs were there after the defeat by Liverpool in the first game of the season, the subsequent unbeaten run and the stunning demolition of Chelsea merely masked a familiar fragility rather than highlighting that this season things were going to be different. Nightmare November was navigated without the wheels coming off, as they so often have when autumn starts to bite; yet the lacklustre draws at home to local rivals Tottenham and away at Old Trafford hardly reassured the Gunner faithful that lessons had been learned and a corner turned. Consecutive away defeats at Everton and Man City the following month and those insipid slow tempo first halves away at Bournemouth and Swansea at the start of the new year sounded alarm bells that familiar failings in terms of attitude and approach had not been addressed.
In December it was revealed that the club had brought in psychologist Dr Ceri Evans, the man credited with transforming the All Blacks into Rugby World Cup Winners for the first time in 23 years. Dr Evans’ approach is based around an ‘anti-choke mechanism’ which seeks to offer his clients a way of dealing with intense pressure and high stakes; it would seem that he truly has his work cut out with the current Arsenal squad.
If Arsenal were truly to challenge for the title for the first time since 2008 and that fateful day at St Andrew’s; then this was the week where they had to lay down a marker. Instead, even though Chelsea dropped points at Anfield, as has happened so many times before, when the chips were down Wenger’s men simply weren’t up to the challenge. The first half performance wasn’t so much a statement of intent more a feeble surrender, there was simply no tempo to the attacking play and the defending was so woeful at times that it would have embarrassed schoolchildren.
It simply cannot be the case that the players lack ability and talent, football has an unerring way of finding you out if you are not good enough; what this team continues to lack is mental toughness, guts, bottle, an unshakeable will to win, and the blame for that can rest only in one place, squarely with the man that recruits, trains and prepares the team.
Increasingly it feels as if Arsene is failing the team as much as the team is failing him; season after season the same issues with regard to the mentality of the team, the types of players that are in it, the tactical set-up, attacking inefficiency and the lack of even the most basic defensive organisation are evident yet these remain unaddressed and there is never a feeling that progress is being made.
Arsenal head to Stamford Bridge this Saturday lunchtime and on the face of it have the chance to put things right, to beat Chelsea and to cut their lead to 6 points; however I think you would be hard pressed to find any seasoned Arsenal watcher with any belief that that is what we will do.
After that comes a visit from Hull, the Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, an FA Cup match at non-league Sutton United before a trip to Anfield; I would truly love us to still be fighting on three fronts going into spring this year, but deep down I know that in all reality another FA Cup run and a challenge for the top four is all we can truly anticipate. It is often said in football that it is the hope that kills you; I suspect for the majority of Gooners it feels like the mundaneness is worse.
Football Nerd musings – https://footballnerddotorg.wordpress.com/