One of the many reasons why I for one at times get sucked into wanting change in our manager is I fear Arsenal are stuck into a cycle. A Cycle controlled by a continuous loop of frailties in mentality.
We have changed the players so I concluded that the mentality and the weaknesses we show in big moments must be wrapped up in one man – Arsene Wenger.
But I love Wenger – I do – I have grown up with him. I married when he was in charge of AFC, I’ve become a father while he was leading AFC. I want him to stay (sometimes) despite knowing the club is in need of renewal to make that next step forward that we are screaming out for.
What you learn from recent weeks is that Sport is Sport but it changes in what I call the “money months of April, May”
Arsenal play August October January Football. It really counts when there are medals at stake – why do we fall short in the “money months”
Let’s move away from the injuries as we cannot really understand why this happens to us and we will never all agree on why.
For me Arsenal need a reset in mentality – All I want is for Arsenal to be the BEST ARSENAL they can be.
I don’t want to be looking at Chelsea with admiring eyes – they have competed in 7 out of the last 11 CL Semi finals. That cannot be easily dismissed. They are building history based on overcoming big moments in the “money months”
It’s not always pretty and when the results slip as they did vs Athletic Madrid they are rightly lampooned. But they are there, consistently.
How can we do similar without changing who we are. How can Arsenal be a better Arsenal?
A few points below on suggestions on how we can restate/improve our Identity and Mentality – How we are viewed, how we are perceived and what we stand for.
1. Sign Players that scare opponents
Arsenal have become a nice team. We are a nice club. Morally we hold the high ground. We have this lovely stadium with pretty smooth lines, purpose built paid for by us in the centre of London – a step up from anywhere in the UK. Come and play Arsenal our crowd is lovely and welcoming. We are more concerned with berating our own manager!
Our team is nice too. Lovely five a side passing no kicking no diving no biting and we don’t like running too much either. But we manage to win just enough to keep us in the top 4. How do we do that!!?
Those that follow me know I judge in the toughest moments and for most of the season playing how we play works but in big moments and we need to add those properties that scare teams. Devastating dynamism. The fear of pace like say Bale showed in the Copa Del Rey final is what defined Wenger’s early teams.
A moment that shocked me this season was Ross Barkley fronting up to Arteta vs Everton. It showed me how teams view Arsenal. We are soft in physicality mobility and mentality. We are viewed as a soft touch against the best sides.
If you think it’s not important to impose your football mentality on your opponent then you don’t understand football or sport. Remember in the first leg of the CL semi CFC vs Athletic Madrid when Costa fronted up to Terry.
That was Costa saying to JT – I am here, I’m not scared of you, I will not go away and I will beat you.
He did beat JT and it was JT that showed mental frailty in the end. He did not defend the cross as well as he did in the second leg. Costa kept coming. That is the mentality Arsenal need. Names are always debatable but mental maturity, a visible desire to win is part of the small details that separate also rans from winners.
I hope this is a criteria for summer signings. We must win the summer. Its the most important time of the year.
2. Close the Gap between the Players and the Fans
When you support a team you are naturally one eyed. It’s hard to see good in others and if you do it tends to be grudging respect. At Arsenal we are a fairly old middle aged lot. Passive until big moments like Bayern, Spurs Wigan. When we decide to wake up and support its really impressive.
Last season watching the Dortmund run to the CL Final I was jealous how close the players were or seem to be to the fans. They were as one totally. It seemed to me they drove the team on with real emotion.
I live near Luton and locally the manager John Still has led the team to the Conference League title. One of the things he has introduced is in the pre match huddle where he invites in some critical fans. I thought that was genus. It tells everyone ‘we are in this together’ don’t criticise come and join us, support us to get where we want to go.
Luton Town Fan Huddle
Ok I understand Arsenal cannot do a huddle pre game but they can do things like more fan open days at Colney. I have seen Arsenal train and it totally changed my view on what it takes to be a professional footballer. The sacrifice to stay fit and the correct weight. The sports science, the elite super hygienic environment. The levels of technique is stunning. When you go into the inner sanctum of Colney you realise what a family Arsenal is. It’s such a tight ship, you never go against the family. There are things I saw that day I have never repeated as I was allowed to see it and would not want to betray trusts. Being an Arsenal man really does mean something at Arsenal.
I would love more fans to see what it takes to be at a club like Arsenal. Maybe open the doors up more to Academy games so people can breathe in the working environment of Arsenal football club. More transparency less mystery.
Once you close the gap you create a force that is as big as Arsenal are.
3. Creating Pride in the Shirt
When you are a leader you have to create the environment for success.
Arsenal to me are a sleeping giant. We need to harness the power of our supporter base and make them realise the players that wear the shirt are playing with a identity based on pride. I look at other sports and other teams and think we could adopt the best of what they do.
The All Blacks have the greatest brand and identity in Rugby, something that Stuart Lancaster, England’s Coach has not missed. Lancaster is currently driving England the same way. Using the shirt as a powerful form of motivation. Creating an identity a history to the shirt. Whatever number you wear you are borrowing it from those in the past. You have standards to live up to. I want the wearing of the Arsenal shirt to be something that is very difficult to do and even harder to stay in.
Recently due to financial pressures and reduced standards and expectations people have worn our shirt that frankly do not deserve to and have not respected the shirt sufficiently, this is shown in off field behaviour. I want to see Arsenal regain the highest standards of quality and behaviour.
I want playing for Arsenal to really mean something. An example where this could be questioned is when Jack Wilshere got injured for England vs Denmark. He wanted to stay on to solidify his England spot so he played on injured. Did he regard Arsenal as important enough – when he was out injured we missed him badly and our title challenge fell apart. Jack is not the only one. RVP has done similar things in the past.
The shirt means a lot to me and we need to ensure we have players that bring pride and fight to that shirt.
To drive the pride you have to set goals that are higher than just winning. Lancaster’s goal is to become the ‘Worlds Most Respected Sports Team’ – winning becomes just a step on the way.
High goals shape the environment and the people you want in that environment – like minded ambitious people drive common goals and then success. I want Arsenal to strive for high sporting goals and not just strive for financial revenue goals so transparently.
4. Coaching & Preparation
Paul Scholes has his dig at Arsenal recently. Some Quotes below:
“They go on the pitch with no discipline. It’s as though ‘you four, five midfielders go out there and do what you want – try and score a goal. A few nice one-twos, nice tippy tappy football – but don’t bother running back’.
“I don’t know if it is the manager – it just seems that way. Midfield players with no discipline. There are no leaders. No Patrick Vieira, no Adams, or Martin Keown.
“These lot go 2-0 down and carry on what they are doing. They have a walk up front or lose the ball. Play a nice little one-two but they don’t bother sprinting back. You wonder why they are in the position you are in. You feel sorry for Arsenal fans. They get the same thing every year. The hint of a title for a few weeks then they go to Chelsea, City or Liverpool and they just do nothing”
Forget where it originates from, there is always a hint of truth in feedback.
Watching Chelsea bore the pants off Anfield last week was tough. It was tough because I admired how every player was on message. They looked coached, they looked like they followed a plan. They had a plan. I cannot deny the embarrassment we suffered at Liverpool hurt me. I was thinking we are Arsenal surely we can prepare properly for a big game better than this. Are Arsenal serious about winning?
I don’t want to be CFC but it was simple preparation to maximise the resources they had on the day.
CFC Plan to beat Liverpool ;
a. Keep Suarez out of the Box
b. No Counter Attacks – Play long make Liverpool attack from deep
c. Disrupt the first 30 minutes to kill Liverpool’s fast start
d. Show Liverpool wide. Do not let them have central areas at pace
Simple planning and executed perfectly.
My favourite Arsenal performance of the season was Dortmund away.
We played in a compact fashion. We did not obsess in having possession in ineffectual areas. We supported efficiently with Ramsey and Ozil behind Giroud. We looked coached we looked on message. My thought here is can we stop the embarrassing score lines by basic mentality change. Staying in games creating a platform to allow our talented offensive players the opportunity to create chances in a serene way.
Let’s make Arsenal hard to play against – a team with devastation in attack.
5. Do Arsenal need a Steve Peters?
Who is Steve Peters, well he is the psychiatrist credited by many at Liverpool with the improvement in their mentality.
Players like Sterling and Gerrard have bought into improving their mind to aid them in pressure moments. Arsenal in my opinion need such help. They may already do have help…We are on the precipice of a new era. Talent is mostly in place. Revenue streams much improved allowing us to compete favourably in the transfer market.
But we have had a mental block when it comes to getting over the line in big moments;
Steve Peters Quotes below;
“Steve Peters is not going to make the players run 100 metres any quicker, although he is a former sprinter himself, or do a Cruyff turn better or hit a 40-yard pass any more accurately,” Gerrard had said. “But what I can guarantee is that if the players buy into it, he’ll be able to help them with mental preparation and make them understand how the mind works, especially when you’re going into pressure situations.”
“The idea of ‘go on out there lad and just enjoy yourself’ seems now as archaic, as steak and chips before a match”
“We work technically, tactically and physically with the players and also mentally, and often in football those mental skills get forgotten about. But for me, it’s the key to winning.”
Not everyone will agree with me but if it gives us 2 or 3% extra to enable us to overcome big moments then we will all be happy.
I remember the CL Quarter final at Anfield. Theo made this amazing run, Adebayor scored and we were through. Almost as we were celebrating Liverpool kicked off Kolo panics brings down Babel for a penalty. Arsenal implode again.
It’s now ingrained in our mentality. 4 all vs Newcastle and Spurs, Birmingham.
We need a way to reset the mentality to allow us to move forward.
Thanks for reading…
AFC fan of 35 years. Grew up in Luton wishing I grew up in Upper Street and could just not get enough of AFC and the area.
I was a child influenced by Charlie George but it got serious for me was in the Liam Brady, Graham Rix and Paul Davis era’s.
Home and Away fan in times gone by – More selective on games today due to prices and middle age.
Priorities – I now watch my 12 year old son play Academy football which gives me a more holistic view of the coaching aspect of the game. I study players the profile of players in relation to squad and team building. I want Arsenal to be as big as we are.
My Hero – Vieira
Happiest Day – Copenhagen v Parma
Saddest Day – Paris 06 & Cfc in the CL quarter Finals 2004
Biggest wish – Wenger to win again and for the gap between the fans and the club to narrow.
The best days are ahead.