Kolo Toure has launched what can be called a robust defence of the squad and its attitude following on from Saturday, basically telling us that they are professional and know they have to improve in order to secure third spot. Arsene is doing the same, telling all and sundry how conscientious the squad is and they are working hard to put it right to win all of the home games and a couple away which ought to be enough, he believes, to finish third. Which is all well and good but the sea-change in the level of performance required is huge. Since the end of January, there have been two genuinely good performances, at the Reebok and in Cardiff. The other ten games have ranged from average to appalling, and brought just three wins and three draws, hardly inspiring form and with the result that third place is all the team have to play for when at the start of that spell, they were in with a chance in three cup competitions.
There have been horrendous injuries and suspensions in that period, a time when most squads would have been at their most threadbare under similar circumstances. This is something that cannot be planned for without having a squad of fifty players; in the short term, the weakness of having to pursue a youth policy has been exposed. That is not to say the squad will not deliver in the future, they just cannot fulfill that promise right now.
However, it begs the question as to what else Arsene can do. This week he has to motivate a team and restore confidence. In this months WSC Jonathan Wilson wrote the following on an article about England in Israel,
A confident player is more likely to score, or to make the defence-splitting pass or the crucial challenge, than a nervous one. And that is where we come to the crux of England’s problem. At the moment their mentality is such that they are not maximising their chances
Substitute the word England for Arsenal and you have the same scenario. If you look at the games which have been lost, only the Liverpool match stands out as an abhorrence. Otherwise, Everton, Chelsea and PSV have all nicked a match by the odd goal, games that in all fairness should have been won or at the very least, drawn. The passing and movement in those matches seems to indicate a confident side for the most part. The finishing and some of the defending indicates otherwise. These aspects can be worked on during the week but a match situation is entirely different, no chance at London Colney to recreate the pressure that exists in the ninety minutes that count. He cannot, of course, make a striker hit the back of the net instead of the corner flag but he can instill confidence in them. It is then down to the individual to transfer that to the pitch.
So what is wrong? More than anything I believe Arsene is having what could be called ‘bad luck’. Look at the wider picture. What else can the serious injuries to your two lead strikers be called? Careless? Hardly. Henry perhaps at a push but Arsenal tried to nuture him back from the World Cup only to have the French scupper their plans. The volume of football required of the player due to success at club and international level is the cause, as well as a stupid carelessness and stubborn pride from his national team manager. RvP’s foot? What else is that but bad luck?
A manager can only influence a game in so many ways, such as the tactical formation and certain aspects of fitness. He is at the whims of the fates in terms of the way in which a ball breaks from a tackle or how the elements are on a certain day. He cannot control if the opposition collectively or individually ‘overperform’. And even if the manager gets one part of his gameplan wrong, that does not necessarily mean it is doomed. Look at the Villa match; awful performance, one lucky break, one goal, three points. The margins between success and failure are fine. If anything, Arsene has ‘lost’ the bold approach to football. Flowing football is the expectation when facing Arsenal this season. Perhaps mixing it up with directness at times would be a change, an unexpected turn of events to unsettle the opposition. There is nothing wrong with adding that element to your game provided it is not the sole basis of your attack. A quick ball forward can be as effective as a passing game if used judiciously.
The current run is not ‘nice’ but it is a test of faith. Journeys that are ultimately successful are rarely smooth. The bumps along the road define faith in achieving the objective and right now it seems to me that too many have little belief in that end goal being achieved. So ends todays sermon.