Monday 29 February 2016

From The Heart: A Must Win That We Bottled

‘We work hard all season for this period’ said Arsene Wenger at his pre match press conference; if we work hard for this period and perform like we did on Sunday, we may as well not bother working hard in the first place. 

As I saw on my seat at the final whistle at Old Trafford, extremely disappointed, watching the fans leave the ground, I thought to myself ‘bottled it’. I used those words a few more times when conversing with fellow fans leaving the ground and on Twitter. The next thing I saw was everyone was using it (I am not claiming responsibility, don’t worry!) including people on TV and media.

For me that showed how everyone was thinking the same thing – usually you get some people thinking we played well or we were unlucky but here, I struggled to find a single fan who didn’t think we bottled it. We had a handball shout at the end of the first half and from where I was, it looked quite close, yet not me, nor anyone else tried to use that as an excuse. In an ordinary game, a decision such as this which can level the game is HUGE, yet no one even wanted to use that as an excuse. It highlighted the mood of Arsenal fans leaving Manchester.

 I’m a positive person, I love the club, ‘love’* the players, the manager and go to the majority of games excited and believing Arsenal will win the game. After yesterday, I’m struggling for motivation. The team cannot score, too many players are out of form at the same time and the is a severe lack of confidence issues with some players.

Alexis Sanchez is badly out of form and getting frustrated with his team mates and himself, Aaron Ramsey seems intent on holding onto the ball for longer than he needs just to ensure he does not give it away, Theo Walcott seems so scared to receive the ball, he hides away, Hector Bellerin is having a dip that anyone of his age would be expected to have, Olivier Giroud cannot score and Francis Coquelin is struggling to get back to the level he was at pre injury. That is far too many players to carry and near impossible.

 Another problem this season has been that I’m not sure Arsene Wenger has ever really known what his best team is. We played our best football of the season with Santi Cazorla in the middle, Aaron Ramsey right and Theo Walcott upfront. The first twenty minutes against Manchester United or the performance against Bayern Munich (despite Ramsey going off injured) were incredible but you got the feeling that Theo Walcott was never first choice up front and since his injury, has looked nowhere near good enough to start but to coincide with that, Giroud has gone through a patch where he cannot find the back of the net. Ironically, his last goal (his second at Anfield) was for me, a terrific striker’s goal. He received the ball, had a small trick, created space and turned and shot – something Torres used to do in his prime. He has since produced two sublime assists for Walcott and Ozil but with a lack of goals in other positions, the pressure on him to score is much bigger. If Alexis and Ramsey were scoring then Giroud doesn’t have to carry the cane!

I actually don’t think there was much wrong tactically for either of the last two games – certainly not against Barcelona when we obviously had a press at half way strategy which was working but we just got a little excited and lost the game in literally one moment. At Old Trafford, when I saw the team, I was genuinely excited with all the pace on show but for whatever reason, they all bottled it! Even Flamini wasn’t in the squad, much to the delight of many!

 I don’t know the answer to this but I began started thinking about what sort of work do we do with the minds of the players – I remember Liverpool working with Steve Peters and the reason why I remember the name is the work he did with Ronnie O’Sullivan in which he worked with Ronnie and persuaded him to play in the World Championships when Ronnie was struggling to even pick up a cue.

I have no idea what Arsenal do and I’m sure a club like Arsenal would be doing something but it seems there is a real mental block at some grounds, against some managers and maybe, some outside help could get them through moments like this – I’m no expert and I’m sure many will tell me I am wrong.

I believe the players are quality, yes some are out of form, some are struggling and some are low on confidence but no one will convince me that they are not good players and that they are not good enough to win the league.

I try and stay out of the Wenger In or out debate because 1. The love and respect I have for him makes it very difficult (although, I question his decisions daily) 2. Because we cannot control anything that happens in that boardroom.

Henry Winter’s tweet about a lack of leadership in the board room really hit home to many people and even if you believe Arsene Wenger is great, he should be accountable and should get, what we would call ‘performance reviews’ – off course again, these may happen anyway but it shouldn’t matter if you a CEO of a major company or a football manager, you must be accountable to your employers. Even if that is just to bounce ideas around, question decisions etc.

Again, there is no excuse for yesterday, it was a complete bottle job in what was a must win game – the title dream for many is over and I would tend to agree but to say true to myself, some positivity for you:

Spurs and Leicester have never been in this position, you can argue so haven’t Arsenal in recent years but Arsenal have some experience in their squad who have. 11 games is a long time in football (unless you are in the middle of a fixture congestion!) and there will be plenty of time for the other teams to panic. Leicester have a tough May and Spurs have a tough April, teams will look to sit deep against Leicester which will make it harder as we saw against Norwich and on top Kante is out for two games.

Momentum can shift very easily and if Arsenal were to beat Swansea and go into the NLD and somehow win it, the table will look very different – it’s a VERY big IF but equally possible.

Problem is, do you trust Arsenal to win their remaining matches? I’m not too sure anymore….

Up the Arsenal, as always.


*love doesn’t mean I think some are useless or dislike them but if they belong to Arsenal football club, they have my backing

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Forget Barcelona, It's all about Old Trafford on Sunday

Well, well, well….it started so well.

We kept Barcelona out for 45 mins and did quite well and even created a few chances of our own but in the end they were just a lot more clinical then us and pretty much won the tie in ten minutes.

Rewinding to the start of the day, the tension and excitement had been building but my attitude was always as such ‘ we’re lucky to be here after our performance in the first two group stage games so let’s just enjoy it’.

Normally, we find ourselves struggling in the league by now but being two points off top spot, the Champions League provided a bit of a distraction despite it being a glamour tie. We could genuinely try and enjoy it but know that our real focus should be on trying to become Champions of this country.

I would say there was a relaxed atmosphere around North London before the game and even Pat Rice who was spotted driving past on Hornsey road seemed calm – good old Pat Rice!

The lightshow that is becoming custom on big games was once again on full display and to be fair, it worked against Bayern Munich and against Manchester City so at least we are still 2-1 up on that one this season! Atmosphere at times is a major problem at Arsenal and across grounds in England and what I find amazing is the people that criticise the card /bag display and lightshow. It is arranged by a fan’s group and paid for by Arsenal so I really do not get the problem. It is not costing us, supporters, a penny. I think supporters need to take responsibility by creating an atmosphere by chanting / singing but anything the club and fan’s group can do to improve atmosphere should be encouraged and applauded.

The game itself wasn’t too bad and Arsenal did quite well, we had an obvious tactic to press to the half way line and it worked quite well but something seemed to change in the second half and we got caught and Barcelona being as clinical and efficient, as Arsene Wenger had said pre match, took advantage and scored. What was surprising was Wenger was quite direct in his press conference post game and without naming names, was critical of his side. A journalist described him as ‘Measured but clear’ in what he said.  

For me, yesterday was about enjoyment but Sunday will be full of stress – it’s the game that really matters in my eyes. Winning at Old Trafford when they are struggling is essential; look ahead to our away fixtures at Spurs and Manchester City and you can add Everton and West Ham and you see why our away form may be vital in deciding if Arsenal do end the season as champions.  

Old Trafford holds some painful memories in recent years but our last two visits have actually been quite positive. A draw in the league and a victory in the FA Cup last season represented us being unbeaten in two matches there. We will also be going with a motivated Danny Welbeck who looked lively as he came on off the bench against Barcelona.

Arsenal certainly need Alexis Sanchez to have a game and start playing again;  our best player from last season hasn’t quite hit the heights since returning from his injury but you would think if Arsenal were going to win the league, Alexis has to step up now.

Roll on to Old Trafford.

Up The Arsenal!
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