An interesting quote from Granit Xhaka to start us off today. After the 2-1 win over Swansea which saw us respond to going a goal down, the Swiss international said:
It’s the third time in a week that the team have come from behind to win, that says a lot about this team.
It really does, on a couple of levels. Firstly, you have to say that a team that keeps fighting, doesn’t let its head drop and comes back from behind does have character. It’s a quality that is perhaps easier to find in other teams, because the other side of that is that going behind with such frequency is clearly a bit of an issue.
I say it’s something we’d identify much more quickly with other teams because we wouldn’t really care too much about them letting in goals. We’d only notice another comeback and it would be frustratingly admirable. But when it’s your own side that is obviously a bit shaky defensively, it’s impossible to ignore.
What’s also clear is that a large percentage of the goals we concede come about because of errors on our part. Whether it’s careless passing, lack of concentration, getting caught on the ball, they are issues that have plagued us this season. And I realise that many goals come from teams capitalising on the mistakes of others, but our always seem to be that more glaring than anyone else’s.
Character is one of those things that is really hard to define. Is it the ability to respond to a setback, or is it being strong enough to ensure those setbacks are much more infrequent? Is it about winning games against beatable opposition after making life difficult for yourself, or is it how you play when you go up against the big teams?
Some might even say character is about gouging the face of an opponent while grinning like some kind of maniac, but I can’t possibly expand on that one. Ultimately, it’s one of those important intangibles. We know it when we see it, we’re aware of when it’s lacking, but it’s not something that’s always easy to turn on and off.
Anyway for now we have some of it, until the next time a game doesn’t go the way we want and then we won’t have enough of it. At the talk in Melbourne this week we spoke about the Invincbles side and what set them apart, and one of the things you always hear is about the spirit within the team and its incredible character. They simply refused to beaten, and there’s no doubt there was something special within that group.
There have to be other factors here though. You could find 11 blokes with great mental strength who aren’t very good at football and no amount of will or desire will make up for that deficit. The talent of the 2003-04 side was obvious; it had quality of the highest level and experience to help some of the younger members through.
It also had a very defined system, a style of play that was obvious to everyone, and it meant that when some of those outside the ‘first XI’ came in, they knew exactly what they had to do and how do it. If you mention the name Pascal Cygan to Arsenal fans, they might turn their noses up at him and dismiss him, but he made 18 league appearances for us that season.
He wasn’t the most important member of that squad, but he was still important, and it becomes more apparent to me, at least, that having a solid system plays a much greater role in a team’s ability to win games. If that system then makes it easier to show character in difficult circumstances, then that’s an added benefit.
This current side obviously doesn’t have a Patrick Vieira or a Thierry Henry. It might have a Pires and a dollop of a Bergkamp here and there, but if it had the first two would we be discussing character as often? Probably not, because we’d also have the quality to avoid some of this season’s most depressing results. So, the simple solution for Arsene Wenger is just to find exact replicas of two of the greatest players this club has ever seen. Simple.
Meanwhile, the manager says he’s not worried about Alexis Sanchez playing against Man City on Sunday. We all know that they wanted him this summer, and he may well have signed for them had we not left it way too late to try and bring in Thomas Lemar. Inevitably, given that situation and the fact he’s into the final 12 months of his contract, questions have been asked about his commitment, but Wenger doesn’t seem concerned at all.
I am not concerned because I am not suspicious of the performances or the desire to win of a football player. When you are a football player, you have a social contract with the rest of the team and I never question that. Once you don’t respect that, it’s difficult to say that you play football.
If you look at the way City are going this season, Sunday’s game against them may well even provide Sanchez with some extra motivation. They don’t look like a team that’s lacking anything, not least in terms of their forwards, so he may have to produce something special to remind them they should continue their pursuit. A highly idealistic outlook on my part, I grant you, but there you go.
Right, that’s it for this morning/afternoon/evening – whatever time it is – and James and I will have an Arsecast Extra for you later (assuming my internet connection holds up!).