Talk of possessing ‘Mental Strength’ looks more mental when you’ve had a week like Arsenal has.
It is just over a week since Arsenal came from behind to dispatch Stoke City relatively comfortably at the Emirates Stadium. Having trailed to a penalty midway through the first half, three goals in reply handed the Gunners three points, as well as a place at the top of the table with Chelsea set to play the following day.
Arsene Wenger was quick to lavish praise on his side, whose display of mental strength to battle back from a goal down naturally pleased him. Going in to trips against Everton and Manchester City, confidence was rightly high.
That all feels like a terribly long time ago now.
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Nine days since Arsenal hosted Stoke have past, and the club are now nine points behind league leaders Chelsea.
Talk of this ‘mental strength’ that the team possesses now has to stop. For all the good results there have been this season – and there have been a few – this team are not up to the task when the going gets really, truly tough.
Think about it. Is beating Stoke at home really a display of mental toughness or strength? There was well over an hour left after the Potters took the lead, allowing plenty of time for a comeback. Add to the fact that those in red and white are talents like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil and their opponents were players such as Charlie Adam, and really, coming back to win that game would be the minimum we should expect this season.
So whilst beating Stoke was a very decent win, what has followed has been abject, disheartening and disappointing. Taking the lead twice, away from home, and generally controlling the opening stages of both games only to eventually lose both is inept and shows a lack of leadership.
Of course, with a relatively favourable stretch now until the side visits Stamford Bridge in early February, there is a chance to put a run together and put points on the board. West Brom, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Swansea City, Burnley and Watford looks, on paper, like the team could and should take 18 points. And perhaps they will, but this wouldn’t be a display of real mental toughness. Simply, this would be what everyone expects from these games.
To be spun the same tired lines will only mean even less when an inevitable loss to Chelsea arrives.
It’s painful to say, but they have it bottled up and seem to drink it before every match they play – however big or small. Since losing to Arsenal in late September Chelsea have won 11 games on the bounce in the league, conceding just twice. It coincided with a change in formation and the dropping of underperforming players like Branislav Ivanovic and Cesc Fabregas. Nobody appeared safe in the team.. This is a display of leadership and mental toughness. The chips were down for them and whispers were being made about whether Antonio Conte had what it took to manage them. A couple months later and the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’.
A disappointing element to the City game – similar to Old Trafford last season and Spurs at home this – is that when we went behind or the other side leveled, there was plenty of time still in the game but yet nothing happened.
At the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, of course it was frustrating for them to score a second, but real mental strength would’ve been responding by at least having a shot on target or corner in the remaining 18 minutes plus stoppage time. Arsenal managed neither; a signal that the players on the field had already resigned themselves to defeat. Instead there was 20 minutes of nothingness, with an image of a sorry looking Alexis Sanchez thrown in for good measure.
It all feels a little bit sad in the aftermath. Were we stupid to think that this season felt different, especially after the beating of Chelsea and the undeserved point at Old Trafford?
The Everton and City losses feel like a massive, title-hope-ending steps backwards for Arsenal. The club needs tougher players, stronger leadership and more fight when things aren’t going their way in the big matches if they’re ever to display true, title challenging, ‘mental strength’.
A lifelong Gunner in his late 20s, Joe can just about remember Bruce Rioch and insisting that his dad took him to away games because he had the lightning blue away kit. Quickly grew up to love Highbury and thanks the Arsenal squads of 1998-2005 for making schoolyard banter a delightful experience. Joe quit his job as a teacher last summer to work in the fantasy sports games industry and writes simply because he enjoys it.