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.
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.
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.
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My name is Graham Perry and I have been a lifelong Arsenal supporter since 1952 when I saw the ten men in red shirts hold out heroically until the 84th minute at Wembley.
The Arsenal thing was confirmed by a meeting with Alex James during Easter 1953. As with most of us it is a family thing with my father always waxing eloquent about the Chapman years.
I am married with four children and five grandchildren. I have been a solicitor in a legal aid practice and have just stepped down after 13 years as an Immigration Judge.
Arsenal is in the blood. The goals and the excitement matter but so does the Community thing and sharing Arsenal with friends and family over so many years.
Want nothing more than to see Wenger hold aloft the Premier League Trophy again.