At first glance, a ten day break as the business end of the season begins is not the ideal scenario. On the back of Sunday’s defeat, it is not such a bad idea. With ten Premier League games to go, Arsenal need to clear their heads and take stock of their situation. The reality is that forgetting everything which has gone before would probably be the better option. For a realistic chance of finishing in the top four, Arsenal need to take 24 out of the remaining 30 points, a run of form which has thus far eluded them all season.
The objective is simple; win as many points as possible and hope that Chelsea or Tottenham implode. In truth that is secondary as they need to ensure that Everton do not overtake them to finish fifth, the only guarantee at this moment in time of European football next season. Some claim not qualifying for the Europa League is preferable to participating. That reflects more the myopic view of club competitions from the English; unless it is the Champions League, most are not bothered. Continental Europe holds the competition in higher esteem but then they respect the European Super Cup as well, something the English game patently does not. Unless you win it, of course.
Thursday night football is a derogatory term, the ultimate insult handed out in the battle of the bragging rights. The reality is that it provides the opportunity of more revenue, albeit on a reduced scale, with differing competition. The belittling of the tournament is a defence mechanism against failure to qualify.
That is for the end of the season though. Right now, wounds need to be licked and the basics of the game reinforced. The squad has a fundamental issue which has never been able to get to grips with. Confidence is born from results; win often enough and it becomes a habit. Chuck in a few draws here and there, the result is an unbeaten run. During that time, performances improve; good habits all round. We’ve seen it happen in previous years, a scrambled late winner, a scrappy early goal defended for dear life morphs into four or five without defeat, each win continuing to be as a result of better play. Arsenal in 2012/13 have not been able to sustain the performances, lurching from win to draw to defeat. That is a psychological problem, the roots of which are traced back to a week in October when Norwich and Schalke managed to negate Arsenal to such an extent that barely a shot on target was mustered.
It is an area which concerns the manager as well,
Of course, you are not feeling great if you can’t win, but we can stay solid or crack under the pressure. I am not worried about us potentially coming back against Bayern, I am more worried about consequences that could manifest in the heads of our players. You will never know how they can absorb those blows and how the team responds to disappointment. This is the most worrying aspect for me.
For Arsène to speak publicly about this is highly unusual, at first glance counter-productive. Tough love or throwing down the cyber-gauntlet to his charges to prove him wrong; whatever the case, it acknowledges the fact that however talented the group of players are, the squad is imbalanced, lacking in leaders to pull them out of whatever slough they inhabit (and having lived near Slough, I am unanimous in believing it is not a nice place to inhabit). When the captain’s form is all over the place, he will be pre-occupied in resolving that, perhaps more than he should be as the team’s notional leader. That said, being handed the armband at Arsenal is the equivalent of the black spot; you know a career at the club is coming to an end when the black and white adorns the bicep. A signal that the season is deemed to be over comes in the news being dominated by transfer gossip, Ashley Williams will join with Vermaelen reportedly being followed out of the door by Carl Jenkinson; the silly season has begun early.