After Newcastle’s comeback against Arsenal on Saturday, Arsene Wenger said “mathematically (we lost) two points, but psychologically the damage is bigger tonight”. The worry will be that the players might lose confidence and although it is only one draw, it could lead to further bad results. I wonder, will that result will have an effect on the rest of their season?
I feel there is too much distraction in the Arsenal camp at the moment, from Jack Wilshere’s Twitter rant, to Wenger’s ‘pretend to have heard’ comment. It is only a few weeks since Cesc Fabregas accused Ipswich of ‘rugby’, and whenever there is a fracas, players like Bendtner and Walcott feel it is best to come out and give their views on the subject. All this occurs at a time when Manchester United are quietly going about their business. After their calamitous collapse at Newcastle, Arsenal desperately need to just focus on their football.
Talking of their football, the 4-4 draw could affect them psychologically because they play the game under the greatest psychological strain. They are more dedicated to their ‘philosophy of football’ than any other side. Whether they are drawing 0-0 or losing 2-0, they refuse to pump the ball long. They retain possession and pass the ball.
But when they went 4-0 up in 26 minutes at St James’ they changed their philosophy and that is why they became so ineffective.
Ideally they would have carried on playing the same way, and ended up winning 8-0. But that is not natural for a footballer; once the huge lead was assembled it is only natural for people to start thinking more defensively. Arsenal showed they are not comfortable with holding on to the lead. As players abandoned their attacking philosophy they lost the plot completely. They were victims of their own success.
People always talk about Arsenal needing to toughen up and get better defenders. But the 4-4 result will affect them most if it brings a change in the way they set up. If they become more focused on defence, with the knowledge that it is weak, they might sacrifice their biggest assets. Wenger might play another holding midfielder and readdress his defensive issues. But I would say, play to your strengths, go and attack. Arsenal always look best when attacking, not controlling. It is their defensive style they should abandon not their attacking flair. Wenger needs to make sure their season does not mirror their capitulation at Newcastle; doing well playing one brand of football, then do poorly playing another.
The difficulty will be in going back to their usual style and sticking with it. It might only be 45 minutes since they were last brilliant, but a lot has happened in that time. Arsenal came off the pitch on Saturday thinking they were a failed defensive unit, not a successful attacking one. They looked like school boys trying to defend, so I ask, why bother? Even with 10 men, they would have been better taking the game to Newcastle.
On the positive side of things, they are only 4 points off the leaders, it could have been 7. Yes it should be 2, but you cannot change the past. You can only affect your future and Wenger needs to tell his boys this: there is still the small fixture of Arsenal v Manchester United at the Emirates to be played.
Looking at the remaining fixtures, Arsenal have a much easier run in, playing only Liverpool from the top 6. Manchester United on the other hand have Man City, Chelsea twice and Liverpool away.
So, Arsenal need to let go of all the tension in the media and their frustration and concentrate on football. Their own brand of attacking football. There is still a lot to do, but their destiny is very much in their own hands.