Arsenal face Watford today in the Premier League looking to make it two wins in a week. Waking up Monday morning to a good performance and three points would be very welcome, and there’s a element of revenge in the build-up to today’s game.
Not necessarily just for Troy Deeney who felt empowered to slag off Arsenal for our lack of ‘cojones’ before his own team went on to win just two of their next eleven games, a run which got their hot property manager, Marco Silva, the sack. It’s more down to the manner of that defeat, the perfect combination of what we’ve been about this season.
A small measure of unluckiness, as I think the penalty was a bit contentious, but attacking impotence coupled with careless at the back cost us late on as Tom Cleverley scored an injury time winner for them as Granit Xhaka stood watching. We had been on an ok run at the time but that defeat has, I’m sure, played its part in the self-doubt that has been so crippling on the road this season.
Since then we’ve lost away to Cologne, Man City, Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth, Swansea, and Brighton, and Pep Guardiola’s side really stand out there not simply because they’re the best team in the land but because the others are sides we really should be doing better against.
So, if professional pride and a keen interest in the Europa League helped spark a performance and a result against Milan this week, the former should be high on the agenda today. I don’t think we can underestimate the benefit of a bit of momentum and having to lurch between Premier League disappointment and trying to get ourselves up for Europe will make things much more difficult, so fingers crossed we can keep things going today.
I suspect the team will be pretty similar to the one that played in Italy in midweek, perhaps a couple of changes – not least the return of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front – but not much more than that. Arsene Wenger doesn’t have a huge amount to choose from to rotate anyway, and he’s a manager who generally likes to have a fairly settled team, so I can’t see it being much different from Thursday.
Our inconsistency makes it impossible to predict what we’re going to get, but the performance in the San Siro illustrates that these players are capable of far better than we’ve been seeing lately, so hopefully with a bit more confidence, and playing at home where we’ve been decent most of the season, will see a bit more of the same.
I’m all on for a win, and I’d very much enjoy a situation where Deeney is reminded that sometimes it’s best to say nothing.
Meanwhile, Per Mertesacker has opened up about his career and the difficulties he’s faced in an extraordinary interview with German publication Der Spiegel. It’s rare to hear a footballer speak with such brutal honesty because the culture of the game almost precludes it.
They are MEN. They are WELL PAID. This should be enough for them to be immune to the things that every one us has to face, whether it’s self-doubt, physical problems, anxieties, mental health, and so on. There’s an expectation that they should be basically high-performance football robots and beyond that nobody cares.
Yet the Arsenal captain reveals the way pressure and expectation has affected him ahead of every single game:
My stomach turns as if I’m going to throw up, then I choke so much my eyes water. I have to go directly to the bathroom from bed. From breakfast to the bathroom. From lunch to the bathroom. At the stadium, to the bathroom again.
He’s not asking anyone to feel sorry for him, by the way, just recounting the experiences he’s had. He talks about injuries and how he feels there’s a psychological element to recurring problems, his decision to retire and what he feels he can bring to the Arsenal Academy next season when he takes over as the manager, and so much more.
Read it all here, translated properly and presented without the sensationalism you’ll see elsewhere. It’s an incredible insight into his life, his anxieties and his career, and as @thearsenal_ pointed out to me on Twitter last night, read it then think about last May when he produced that epic performance in the FA Cup final against Chelsea. In that context it becomes something even greater again.
And despite the difficulties, he finishes like this:
Even if I had to vomit before every game and go to rehab 20 times, I would do it all again and again.
It was worth it for all the memories.
What a man, and I think that although he will face criticism for this, and the lowest common denominator football fan will mock him for some of his admissions, his honesty is something to be applauded and hopefully it will go some way to reminding people that footballers are people first, and sportsmen second.
Right, have a good one, catch you later for the game.