Another tough week looms ahead. There’s the small matter of Manchester United and Liverpool (again), and the very real need to change the mood around the club.
Any kind of humping, like the one we got on Saturday, is bound to affect the perception of where we are, what we’re doing and how we do it. It’s embarrassing to be beaten like that, and it’s down to the players and managers to put that right.
On Friday there was talk of how good our defence was, the impact Steve Bould was having (little mention of that in the wake of Liverpool, I guess), how solid we’d been, and there was genuine optimism – even if it was tempered with that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that this team, for all its done this season, hasn’t quite been able to fully rid itself of the self-destruct button.
For some what happened at Anfield was confirmation of what they knew all along; for others it’s another stumble in what has been otherwise a decent race so far. There is room for both points of view, but there’s little that debate and discussion will prove. Only what happens on the pitch matters, and the pressure is now very much on this team to get back on track on Wednesday night.
United stumbled again yesterday against Fulham. In the past there was the fear that facing a wounded animal could be more difficult. I suppose there’s some truth to that when the animal is a lion, king of the jungle and all that. You’d be very hard pressed to ascribe any lion-esque qualities to Moyes side. They’re not so much wounded as practically roadkill in comparison to previous seasons.
That might make our job a bit easier but it also increases the pressure. This season, when we’ve come undone, it’s been against the ‘big’ sides. We’ve beaten and lost to Liverpool, drawn with Chelsea, lost to United at Old Trafford, and been turned over by Man City at their place. People will remain unconvinced about us, our mentality, and our ability to deal with the expectation in big games, until we win one.
With United struggling so badly, with losses against the likes of Stoke, West Brom, Newcastle and Sunderland, you have to think it’s the best time to play them in an age. Yet that expectation is something we’ve got to prove we can cope with. Not only do we have to put Saturday behind us, but we have to face the biggest club in Premier League history to help do that.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that we have some experience of this already this season. After being tanked by Man City, our next game was at home against Chelsea. In one way, not exactly easy opponents when you’re trying to get over a pasting, but in another it certainly ensures you’re focused and switched on because you know what will happen if you let your guard down.
It’s a funny league this year, no doubt it. The Arsenal ‘in crisis’ stuff is easy to pick up and run with, but although we might have lost at Anfield, Man City (the all powerful, BEST TEAM EVAH!!, remember), have taken 1 point from their last 2 games. Maybe it’s their depth that gives them something of a free pass to be taken apart by Chelsea and then held scoreless by a Norwich side that have been fairly hapless this season, but again it all comes down to perception; what you see and what you’re willing to see.
Does it say more about a team if they can beat opponents at the top end of the table, or if they drop points against teams much further down? Worth pondering.
Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta has spoken about Arsene Wenger’s half-time tirade on Saturday, saying:
The manager was really upset at half-time … it wasn’t good enough for this football club. It was the angriest I have seen him.
He went on to describe the match as a car crash. Having been involved, and injured, in one of those, I can tell you a car crash is better because you get sweet, delicious morphine to make the pain go away. A win over United would be a morphine shot to our season, the blissful waves of footballing pleasure … I should stop and I do not advocate the use of morphine unless you’re really, really injured.
But as much as the ultimate buck stops with the manager for performances like that, the players themselves have to take responsibility. It’s hardly as if they were told to go out and start slowly, play like chumps and then react like a Sunday league team. Of course it’s the manager’s job to prepare them and motivate them, and to react on the sideline when things happen, but as I mentioned yesterday the failure is collective.
The players will know as well as anyone that they’ve made a big dent in what has been an impressive season so far. They have two choices, they can feel sorry for themselves and wallow, or they can sort their heads out, and put things right against United on Wednesday. And given what we’ve seen from these guys since August, I don’t think that first one is realistic at all.
As the manager said about the Liverpool game, it raises questions about this team: Wednesday is the perfect time to answer them.
That’s just about that. We’ll be recording an Arsecast Extra this lunchtime. If you have any questions you’d like us to touch on just Tweet them at @gunnerblog and @arseblog with the hashtag #arsecastextra and we’ll try and get to as many as possible. Plenty to talk about today, the show will be available this afternoon.
Have a good one.