This Arsenal Need To Conquer Their Fear
There are many trendy Arsenal frustrations at the moment and for most it is our reluctance to strengthen the squad during the current transfer window. The silence from our American owner, perceived as him not giving a shit about the fans and rinsing the club for a return on his investment, is also a frustration to Gooners. As is now the fitness of Keiran Gibbs. Or that our Arsenal has disappeared and we want it back (what does that even mean in today’s climate?). Or zonal marking. Or Gervinho. Or Aaron Ramsey. Or Arsene Wenger. But there’s something that irks me about the current Arsenal more than anything: the inability to compete to their utmost from the first whistle is frustrating beyond belief.
That lackadaisical start to a match where it looks as though we feel we’re Garry Kasporov and it’s only a matter of time before we pass through the opposition and win the game. Then it all becomes one-paced, and we play with fear (Wenger’s code word for ‘fear’ is ‘handbrake’ ), mistakes – often rudimentary ones – happen and we concede. The pressure mounts. And so one, like a repetitive nightmare – we’ve seen it all before.
Occasionally we roll our sleeves up and actually play to our strengths: quicker movement, incisive passing, confident finishing, closing down quickly and in packs. It happened in the second halves against City, Chelsea (by that time it was all too late), West Ham and it happened having gone two down last night.
We and – more importantly – the players know they can do it (we’ve seen them do it, albeit sporadically and inconsistently), but the fear…Sorry, handbrake, comes on and inhibits their instincts. Wenger may not be the most astute tactical coach, but one of his strengths is instilling belief into players by uninhibiting them.
Essentially, football can be viewed as a game of mistakes, and the team that make the less mistakes invariably win. The problem is that fear – built up by the pressure of seven trophyless seasons and being constantly compared to the Invincibles – sets in and mistakes happen more frequently and at more crucial points in a game – see Koscielny and Szczesny’s Laurel and Hardy act in the dying minutes of the Carling Cup final.
It also helps nobody when frustration is shown by us Gooners during the game. Football is emotive and we have all done our nut at a player during a game, but it doesn’t help anyone. It really doesn’t. Least of all the team. Protests against the Board are absolutely fine by me, as long as they’re done outside the ground and away from the focus of the players.
Can any Gooner tell me they didn’t enjoy that spell where we equalised last night? Or that 10 minute goal flurry against West Ham? Or against Newcastle? Or Reading away? Or 5pur2? We want more of that. The team needs to be more consistent, but they can’t find consistency when playing with fear… I mean the handbrake on.
Post-match, Wenger answered why his defenders are nervous with: ‘Because they want to do well and they want to win games’, which may be a bizarre thing to say, but it is a true assessment. Often when you want something so much you don’t perform at your best and that fucking handbrake is pulled up. This isn’t an excuse, it’s an assessment from Wenger. How can he – or us as paying fans with a huge emotional investment in the club – legislate for rudimentary individual errors? That isn’t a coaching flaw, it’s individual flaws that I believe stem from fear. Is Vermalen now all of a sudden not a good defender? Or Sagna? Or our best defender last season, Koscielny, or the holder of 85 Germany caps and veteran of four major international tournaments, Mertesacker?
One player that I would say is just about the bravest player in our squad (along with Jack) is Aaron Ramsey, who was impressive again last night, and that is testament to his temperament. He has become the latest boo boy target of late, but credit to him: a young lad still learning the game having come back from a career threatening injury. And signs of Santi and Jack starting to click together were also promising.
Last word on a subject that the ‘if me auntie had bollocks she’d be me uncle’ types continue to go on about is ‘replacing’ RVP. How exactly do you do that? And don’t say ‘sign Falcao’ as this isn’t Football Manager, this is the real world. Podolski and Giroud now have 25 goals and 20 assists between them; impressive return in my opinion for their first half a season in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.