Morning all, welcome to another week and there’s no rest for the wicked as we head to Hull tomorrow night for an FA Cup replay that determine how the weekend plays out. We’ll look more closely at that game tomorrow, and throughout the day, as the manager is sure to change things around after such a gruelling game on Saturday against Sp*rs.
There are some interesting comments from him about how he’s worried about the pressure affecting the confidence of the players over the final couple of months of the season. Speaking after the White Hart Lane draw, Wenger said:
I must tell you that the pressure from our supporters is relentless. We have to deal with that. We have to go on a run again. I prefer that the fans are happy but I’m more worried that it can get to the players’ confidence level.
Perhaps he’s worried because confidence is in relatively short supply at the moment, but he must know that the pressure comes from expectation, and because results simply haven’t been good enough in recent times. Wenger has often said that it’s a two-way street when it comes to atmosphere. Of course fans can help by getting behind the team, but the team also have to perform in a way that lifts the crowd.
For some it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but for the most part it’s down to what happens on the pitch. I think the vast majority of fans want to be behind the team at all times, but when you play poorly far too regularly; and when you let slip winning positions at home against relegation threatened sides when you’re supposedly trying to win the title, it’s natural for people to become frustrated. I don’t think he’s necessarily blaming fans for the pressure, but I do think he could be clearer when he talks about it. Fans aren’t the ones making the mistakes, letting in the goals, and missing the chances.
I know I mentioned last week, but perhaps the biggest indication of fan frustration is the fact that thousands and thousands of them simply didn’t turn up to watch the Swansea game. The tickets were bought and paid for, but despite the fact this was a game that would have – if we’d won – brought us closer to the leaders, fans just didn’t bother going to the match.
Per Mertesacker isn’t taken aback by the kind of reaction we heard when the final whistle went against Swansea, saying:
In midweek, the expectation was there and when we don’t perform. There was a bit of nervousness in the crowd but I can understand that. As long as we support each other and back each other, that will take us to another level. You embrace even more playing at home. I think it gives you more energy.
So, I don’t think the players will be terribly affected at all by the pressure. Ultimately, it’s their job to deal with that. They’re top level sportsmen, it’s part and parcel of life at this level. And when it comes right down to it, if there is pressure it’s because they haven’t performed as well as they should have. Individually and collectively they’ve fallen short of what they’re capable of.
As I’ve said previously, I firmly believe the lack of confidence and fluidity comes from the way we’re playing football. Mertesacker famously referred to ‘automatisms’ when we were in such good form around this time last year. Players knowing instinctively where one and other are on the pitch, what runs they’re going to make, being on the same wavelength game after game after game.
That couldn’t be any less the case now. About the only thing you can say with any certainty about our game is that Monreal will overlap down the left but after that it’s hard to see where the relationships on the pitch are and how they function. That lack of cohesion is what affects confidence more than fans who have every right to be frustrated with what’s happened on the pitch.
And it’s not the fault of fans that shortcomings in the team, that might have been addressed in the transfer market, were not. The manager made his decisions in the summer about his ageing and injury prone midfield, and unfortunately for him – and us – he got it wrong. Wilshere hasn’t played, Arteta’s decline became steeper and more rapid than he had thought, Rosicky managed 20 minutes, and we haven’t been able to cope when those left succumbed to injury and losses of form.
If there’s pressure on the manager and the team, the vast majority of it is self-inflicted. And, to be absolutely fair to fans, it’s only really been the last couple of months that it has amped up. On January 3rd after 20 games, we were top of the table, leading Leicester by 2 points. 9 games later we’re 8 behind, our form in those games a dismal looking: DDLDWWLLD – 10 points from 27.
That’s the source of the pressure. Fans are reacting to that, not creating it, and while I understand the concerns that players who are already a bit brittle and fragile might be affected by widespread disenchantment, they’ve got to be able to deal with that because that’s the reality of the situation they and the manager have created.
What helps lift the pressure? Winning games and playing well, neither of which the fans can do anything about. The solution, as Arsene often says, is an internal one.
Right, any news throughout the day we’ll have for you over on Arseblog News. There will be an Arsecast Extra, but not until this afternoon, some time after lunch, as James is jet-setting back home from an exotic location this morning. If you do have questions or topics for discussion, it might be best to wait until later, as chances are they’ll get lost in the ether if you send right now.