Predicting results at this stage of the season becomes something of a fool’s errand. Easter time has always thrown up shock results. The only surprise is that we continue to be surprised by it. There are just so many factors at this stage of the season that make facing Wigan in December, for instance, a much, much different prospect to facing them in April.
Of course the sight of the finishing tape makes the search for points frantic, but psychological factors begin to govern results more than they would in mid season. I’m not just talking about the sort of mental strength which Gary Neville wrote about a few weeks ago. Teams with nothing to play for become unpredictable too. Despite having precious little to compete for beyond affection, Norwich can roll up at White Hart Lane and beat Spurs. Our last three games of the season are against teams whose objectives for the season are virtually achieved already.
Some sides relish this sense of liberation and begin to play “with the handbrake off” to indulge the manager’s obsession with automobile metaphors. Some simply slide off into a puddle of end of season meh-ness. Come April, it’s not just your results that matter either and that can have consequences. As supporters, we don’t just support Arsenal; but every team that face Chelsea, Newcastle and Tottenham are adopted for the day and cradled to our Gooner bosoms.
With the haphazardness of TV scheduling in the modern game, this can affect the players too. A positive or negative result for your rivals 24 hours before you play can either liberate you or inhibit you. Over the weekend, results went Wigan’s way at the bottom and it seemed to inspire them. It’s why I don’t necessarily buy the popular consensus that Chelsea’s very hard fought game against Barcelona on Wednesday will play hugely into our hands this weekend. At this stage of the season, everyone is tired.
This makes momentum king and those psychological factors become trump cards. Would you rather three days rest after a confidence boosting win? Or five days rest after a morale sapping defeat? Chelsea may have their eye on Tuesday’s second leg in Catalonia on their minds, but they have the wind of two huge victories beneath their despicable, cunty, Sibneft funded wings. I, for one, am taking nothing for granted.
There again, maybe the need for a response engendered by a poor result against Wigan will spur us onto victory, just as defeat to QPR caused us to force the issue against Manchester City. Had we beaten Wigan, I think we probably could have afforded to draw with Chelsea to keep them at arm’s length. That may not have necessarily suited us. And what of Spurs? They will be looking at the result with interest as they play QPR at Loftus Road later that day. How will they react to any potential result, all of which have positive and negative connotations for them?
Arsenal still have a lot of work to do to secure 3rd and fallibilities are evident enough to keep us anxious. There were signs in the second half at Wolves that focus had dropped and the intensity with which we played the game had veered into the red zone. We have 35 points from 17 games against teams in the bottom half. The worst record in the top 6. It’s an identifiable pattern. I wrote last week that Arsenal’s continued success relies on their ability to treat every fixture the same. Is there an issue with complacency there? Do we really press and harry those sides as well as we have done against Chelsea, Spurs, City, and Milan at home? Or is it perhaps that we suffer when confronted with a more disciplined style?
I’d say there’s a mixture of both. But if you look at the first goal we conceded against Wigan on Monday night, it was Yossi Benayoun that was scrapping with di Santo for the rebound in our penalty area. The furthest man back following our own corner. Really? Is Yossi Benayoun really the fastest player in our team? Did he really beat the likes of Santos, Vermaelen, Walcott and Djourou in a foot race over 70 yards? Had Arsenal been pouring forwards towards the opposition goal on a breakout, do you honestly think Benayoun would beat the same players in a rush to reach the opposition goal? Had the potential reward been offensive rather than defensive, I somehow doubt those same players would have been trailing in Yossi’s wake.
We also had a situation whereby Arteta couldn’t walk, yet Rosicky and Song trundled forward for the corner and left Arteta as the covering midfielder. The attitude of the team is that, when a player is incapacitated, we are down one potential attacker. The intelligent thing to do would have been for Song to drop back, realise we’re only eight minutes into the game with no need to leave ourselves wide open. It’s the attitude of the school playground, where the fatter and more useless a player you are, the further back you play. Arsenal still don’t respect the defensive side of the game enough.
Speaking of Arteta, his injury is an enormous blow. I’d like to think he’ll get a place on the silver or bronze podia when the Player of the Season awards are voted for. With Wilshere having missed the whole season, we’re fortunate in a sense that Arteta has been fit and ready for as long as he has. Looking at some of the stick Ramsey is getting, I don’t think Wilshere missing this season will do him any harm in the long run, provided there are no lasting physical defects. The intensity and pressure of second season syndrome would have seen the sort of hysteria that would make a Liverpool fan wince.
About now he’d probably just about have reached the end of the honeymoon stage with Arsenal fans, with the first quiet whispers of “big time Charlie” and “overrated” just being tested on internet forums were he to dare to hit a fallow period of form. Meanwhile, the wider press would be handing him his crown and sceptre ready to be the nation’s saviour this summer, only to unceremoniously tear them from his grip again come July. The natural need for a scapegoat is being filled by Ramsey, the current chump du jour. Nobody would argue that Ramsey is having an easy time of it, but much of the criticism is bent well out of shape.
Szczesny is the same age as Ramsey and he went through a dip in form in the January and February period. All players of that age do. The team is adapting to Ramsey just as much as he is adapting to the rigours of weekly football at the top level. Our mode of play has changed this season into a quicker transitional style. We don’t have a triquetra type like Fabregas was, or that Nasri thought he was (but wasn’t). Ramsey is much more in the all action Gerrard mould, he’s in the business of late, lung bursting runs. Arsenal haven’t had a midfielder like this in some time.
Ramsey’s execution needs work, but that’s ok because it’s the easiest thing to fix. It just takes practise and a little confidence. Yet it also takes time for the team to appreciate his different qualities and react to them. It was the same when Cesc became a prominent feature of the team. (In the 2005-06 season he registered 3 goals and 5 assists. Ramsey is dealing in similar numbers this year). It’s coming too. I recall van Persie picking out a late Ramsey run in the box at Goodison, guiding a header down towards him in the box. It was a fabulous run that no Everton defender picked up right to the lip of the Everton area.
The issue was that he volleyed it over the bar. But like I said, that’s easily fixed on the training ground. Just ask Thierry Henry. Coaching that movement in the first place is the difficulty. Just ask Marouane Chamakh. Swingers on the line now and you bookmark this page if you like. This time next year, provided he enjoys reasonable fitness, Ramsey will be in the running for our Player of the Season award. There’s a hell of a lot of talent in this boy. Don’t try and destroy it, embrace it. It’ll make you proud one day. Till next time. LD.
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