Reality bites

Distraction.

That is the word that springs to mind this morning as I look over the Arsenal news feeds and take on board all the stuff that went on yesterday regarding Yann M’Vila. Such was the ferocity with which the news was embraced that it makes you wonder if people really can’t bear to think about what lies ahead at the end of this week.

I’m not immune, Sunday is a vaguely terrifying prospect, and the idea that we might be on the verge of signing a very good player is a welcome relief from having to think about it. In the cold light of day I do wonder if the news would have been so widely accepted and unquestioned if one of the principal journalists had been a Julian Laurence working for The Sun telling us about Arsenal’s bid to sign the most exciting young midfielder in England. Maybe that’s just being a bit cynical.

However, I think the main point remains. As much as we all want to see the team improved this summer what we’ll be able to do this time around is so dependent on where we finish that I think folk have got the heebie-jeebies. Anything that provides a distraction from a) West Brom and b) what we saw against Norwich is jumped upon with great relish.

Not that I’m criticising anyone for that, I fully understand it. Who wouldn’t want to try and keep the nightmare scenario that could play out on Sunday out of their minds for as long as possible? And who wants to think about the Norwich game and how we saw the best and the worst of this Arsenal team in one ninety-minutes? Cocky and supine, capable of changing things around and performing well, before slackness and stupidity cost us two points which would have seen us clinch third in the light of Sunday’s results.

Gunnerblog described Sunday as a cup-final, and that’s exactly what it is. There’s no trophy to pick up at the end, but the prize is invaluable. Finish third and our summer is as easy as it gets. We know we have Champions League football with which to convince existing players to sign new deals and to attract new players. We know how our pre-season will play out, we know what finances we’ll have available to us.

Finish fourth and we watch the Champions League final in horror, looking for Bayern to do us a favour and prevent us from slipping into the Europa League. And even if they do we then face a qualifying round which, like it or not, could well have an influence on what we need to do. There’s no guarantee of CL football, there’s no guarantee of that income, and how many times down the years have we opined that we’re probably waiting to make signings until after that hurdle has been overcome?

So being distracted by credible sounding transfer stories is no surprise at all and I don’t blame anyone for that. At this point I’d happily be distracted by some shiny paper or a squeaky rubber giraffe because this is going to be as tense as it gets as the week goes on. By the time Sunday comes around who knows? I’d say nail-biting but I imagine I’ll be down to the second knuckle by then.

Arsene, on the other hand, has to ensure his squad remain calm and focused and don’t feel the pressure the same way we do. I wonder how much work will be done on the training ground to ensure we do the simple things correctly. If it were up to me I’d have them all connected to electrodes and the first player to over-elaborate when there was a better, but less showbiz, option available to him would get zapped. I can’t imagine this is something that’s not been said time and time again but perhaps aversion therapy is what’s needed to get the message through to some of them.

It’s rare enough that Arsene is so scathing about his players but he pulled no punches regarding our defending against Norwich:

We were absolutely poor defensively today. At the back everybody was absolutely horrendous for the third goal. It is just not acceptable. I feel that the way we conceded the goal was just unexplainable.

What was apparent on Saturday was the lack of defensive cohesion. While it’s possible to point out individuals whose errors contributed more to the problems we had than others, the fact is that it was a sloppy performance from the team in general. When we’ve defended best this season it has come when every single player out there is working hard for one another. That wasn’t the case on Saturday when we looked far more a collection of individuals than a team.

Alex Song might not enjoy sitting back when Vermaelen wanders forward but it’s his job to do so. If he’s got the hump with it (and it’s not the first time this season he’s seemed reluctant to do the dirty work when Tommy goes bombing on), take it up with the manager or the Belgian after the game but if you don’t do what’s necessary we get caught out – and we were for their second goal. Against Man City, for example, that didn’t happen and that was up there with our best performances this season.

Whatever the manager has to do to cajole, demand or, frankly, beat a repeat of the City performance out of his team he’s got to do it. The idea that anyone might put their own performance above that of the collective is not something we can countenance this week. If there are egos or clashes of personality, for whatever reason, they need to be put to one side.

For me, it’s simple enough – if this team is switched on and works hard, then they can beat West Brom. If not, if the focus is off even a little bit, we’re capable of making mistakes which any Premier League team worth their salt can punish.

Sorry to come back to this again but this is the reality that we face this week, not who we might sign next.

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