It is not Tactics, Formations or Players to Blame, it is Poor Mentality and Weak Mindset –

Defeated before a ball kicked?

The Watford defeat hurts big time. It doesn’t go away. Three days on and the frustration at missing the opportunity remains and the questions remain unanswered. Why were we not “mentally prepared” as Wenger admitted? How could Watford, with such a poor run coming into the game, be sharper, quicker and more committed? Was the prize of three important points not enough to have our team sprinting out of the starting blocks?

One explanation – popular on social media – is to blame Ramsey or Coquelin or Theo. Little analysis and a lot of “letting rip”. Football does that to you. Reactions are quick and often not thought through. We know the game is about passion and commitment and our emotions are toyed with by the players, by the media, by the reactions of people around us.

This is not an issue of quality. We are scoring goals; we were prior to the game in second place albeit a sizeable number of points behind Chelsea but there or thereabouts with City, THFC and the chasing pack. Apart from the setbacks at Everton and City were have been consistent. Defence is a little flakey but, THFC apart, so are the others.

No, for me this is not about team skills or individual failings or wrong decisions. I accept that, as in every football team, these matters come into play. Xhaka’s stupidity, Gabriel’s limitations, Ramsey’s inability to recover the great form of three years ago are all valid discussion points. But Tuesday night was not about these things as such although they affect team performance.

Watford pre-match huddle worked

The truth is that the Watford pre-match huddle worked. They were all on the same line, same motivation, and same determination. They did beat us – certainly in the first half. Yes, they were helped by a deflection for the first goal and that created doubt for us but they challenged and won. The 50/50 balls went their way not ours. They were up for it. It does happen that a team doing badly, and Watford have had a run of bad form, do reach a point that triggers a big counter-reaction. They have gone so low they know there has to be a response and we saw it. If I was a Watford supporter I would have been so happy. But I am not. I am Arsenal and I was frustrated, bitter and angry. I wanted the three points and if I wanted it so did every other AFC supporter. Like you I worked Tuesday in the normal way but throughout the day my mind kept coming back to the match and the excitement that we had a chance to possibly gain points on Chelsea ahead of our weekend visit to Stamford Bridge.

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We were all up for it. We did not need a team talk – did not need to be told the importance of the occasion. We had worked for months to get within striking distance of the leaders and here was our best chance.

So why were not up for it or as Wenger said “not mentally prepared”. Were we nervous of failure? Was the preparation in the dressing room inadequate? Is our team composed of too many quiet individuals? Something important was missing and nobody in the media has been able to explain it. The critics lapse into their well worn clichés. They sound off but they do not explain. So let’s try to look at possible explanations.

We don’t know what he said but we do not it did not work

First – we do not know what happens in the dressing room in the countdown to kick off. In fact we know nothing so what follows is speculation but is it the case that whilst player for player we are on a par with other clubs we are quiet, low key, not capable of raising the motivational levels. Has Wenger assembled a talented team of footballers who lack individual spark? Like most people reading this article I have not managed any team. I have played and enjoyed the excitement of shared expectation but looking at our team are we just too restrained. A team is always a mix of players and no one was quieter than Peter Simpson – a dominant factor in 1971 Double Team. He could not raise anybody else. He was quiet – hardly said a word. But there were others in that team that could motivate. So are our players all too samey, too cerebral, too introspective? A team is a blend and maybe the blend of personalities – not skills – is just wrong. The mix is not there. Too many followers and not enough leaders.

Second – think of Frank McLintock and Tony Adams, even Joe Mercer if you go back that far, and you do have fist waving team inspiring leaders. Koscielny is not that type – nor Mertesacker – nor Arteta. You need people who in the height of battle you can look to for leadership. Now Kos and the others lead by example but it needs more. Your own life experience will tell you – we all know people who, at moments in our lives, have performed that role. They take us beyond ourselves, inspire us, and lead us. We are missing that at AFC today. Mustafi showed signs of deep frustration on Tuesday but I do not know if he also has leadership skills but we need more dynamic, more internal confrontation.





No Leaders on Pitch?





Third – I wonder if that is Wenger’s way. Is he also too cerebral, too intelligent to be instinctive and emotional? But he has had so much success. He has witnessed dressing room tensions and the inter-action of different individuals. So it remains a problem. How could any team of Wengers be “mentally unprepared?”

But we were unprepared. We recovered a little and on another day it might have been a 3-2 win but too often this season we have been on the pitch but not in the game. This is not about tactics or team formation or injuries or substitutions. This is about just one thing – mind set and our minds were not set on the right goals, the right objectives. Watford’s were and they won. Ours weren’t and we lost.



@arsenalcircular – you can follow me and continue the debate

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3 Responses to It is not Tactics, Formations or Players to Blame, it is Poor Mentality and Weak Mindset –

  1. SUFIAN INTWALA February 3, 2017 at 3:19 pm #

    I don’t think leadership or being mentally strong enough comes from our lack of players who have that mindset. Let’s be honest a Tony Adams don’t exist in the PL or a Roy Keane, it’s a different game now from the past and those who traditionally have been ‘leaders’ Gerrard, Terry, Lampard are retired or in their twilight years. Ultimately the mentally starts from the top. And in your article you mentioned with Wenger; it’s just too comfortable for players. I must add one thing, which I think ,anyway, is important, the players are far too trusting with Wenger tactics and the manager also of his own approach. This is not a criticism of Wenger tactics is actually the opposite, Wenger is a great tactician but sometimes teams will get the better of us and when it does, the players do not know what to do. It is admirable the players trust Wenger and Vice versa but when it fails (which is only the minority of times) we lack the nuance of doing something else or the intrinsic thought that this game will be won not by the tactics but that fighting ability, and that extra bit of determination and effort. Ultimately by covering more ground than the opposition, winning the 50/50’s, getting the loose balls, and being much more physical.

    • SUFIAN INTWALA February 3, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

      I said mentally except I meant to say mentality. oops

  2. Victor Thompson February 5, 2017 at 5:05 pm #

    Graham, I respect your opinions but this article was written before the Chelsea game and unfortunately if you had both games to consider as a template, you would have been right in identifying the lack of mental preparation. However, unlike Sufian above, I do not agree that Wenger iis a great tactician. If there is anything that he is not, it is a tactician, even a moderate one.

    He is also not a motivator. In his early years, he was a great innovator and his knowledge of fitness, healthy eating etc. added two years to the career of Tony Adams ( the ultimate leader, motivator and warrior). He was part of the best defence ever seen and Wenger benefited from it. He was a great talent spotter and the stream of great players he brought to us was phenominal. In later years he has had to cope with Man U, Man City and Chelsea outspending us, so we had a few years where it would have been a surprise if we had won the league. More recently though we have been able to buy the likes of Sanchez and Ozil and we have a collection of very talented players.

    We have had at least three good opportunities on at least 3 of the last 5 years to win the championship and we have fallen at the last hurdles during the months of January/February. We have suffered defeats at the hands of relegation fodder teams at times when we were looking forward to adding to our goal difference. This has been such a common practice that the fans and the media refer to it every year. In the Watford game, this year and last, we were beaten by a team of distinctly inferior players, Their manager was able to motivate those players to be David against our Goliath. Wenger has never been able to do that.

    How many times has Wenger been onscreen admitting that his team was not mentally prepared even though pre – match they had “great resolve and attitude”. Do you think that a Tony Adams team would ever have let that happen? That defence ran itself. The unit had a method of playing, and god help any of them if they did not follow the plan set by Adams-not Wenger.

    Against Southampton he played Miles, Adelaide, Perez and Welbeck. Welbeck was sensational and Perez uncomplicated things on the wing and the tempo of the game increased accordingly. I expected more of the same against Watford but there was no Welbeck, no Miles, no Perez and Watford scored 2 goals before we had even warmed up. Ramsey was hopeless and went off injured but our tempo still did not improve. What did Wenger do? Nothing which was good enough to salvage a point or win the game and the players trooped off as despondent as I have ever seen them.

    I wrote an article prior to the Chelsea Game and I described exactly how Chelsea would play and how they would set up their team. I am not a genius but Chelsea`s method of playing this season is set in stone. I suggested that he should play with a back three of Mustafi, Kos and Holding with instructions for them to stay in their own half and play tight to each other.

    There was no Holding and no Monreal as he spent most of the match on the left wing leaving Iwobi exposed. There was no one in the left back position and we were wide open to Hazard, Moses and Alonso running through. It was taking candy off a baby. The truth is, we need proper coaching. The team has no shape. We were until todays matches, the joint highest scorers in the league along with Liverpool and we have the two worst defensive records in the top six. You have to go to West Brom in 8th place for a worse defence. Wenger boasted before the Southampton game that we had the most potent scorers in the championship because our scorers were all over the team. We have players who can score from anywhere.

    What good is that, if we also have one of the worst defences? What are they doing about it? What is Steve Bould doing? Would they have played like this if Tony was still around? I think not.

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