There is always a season defining moment for every team in the league. For some, it is a hard fought win that shows maturity and fighting spirit. For others, it is a demoralising loss that saps away all their hopes of achieving anything. Unfortunately for Arsenal, in the recent past, it has always been the latter. None more so, than the last minute loss against Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final last season. At exactly the same stage in the season. Arsenal were fighting on four fronts before that loss. Within a span of 20 days, they were out of three.
Last week’s loss against Swansea City can prove to be that season defining moment for Arsenal this time around. Not because they lost to a promoted side who happened to play better football than them and beat them at their own game. Not because they lost the match before that as well. But, because these are exactly the sort of matches which have drained the confidence out of the side in the recent past. Arsenal were in a winning position in both of the matches. However due to profligacy in front of goal and a bewildering choice to sit on their lead for the remaining 70 minutes, they ended up on the losing side on both the occasions.
It can be a matter of great interest for psychology students to understand and compare the mindset of Arsenal and other champion teams. No matter the personnel, somehow Arsenal always manage to come under pressure, always manage to get bullied, always manage to break down. However when you compare this to Manchester United (or Barcelona or Manchester City for starters), their philosophy has always been about, not giving up and fighting till the last breath. It was argued that Arsenal lacked enough experienced players in the seasons before. However they haven’t been able to turn things around this time either, even with the signings of Arteta, Benayoun and Mertesacker. All experienced players and of enough quality.
So, the problem should lie somewhere else, right? And it does. The finger has to be painfully pointed towards Arsene Wenger for this. Wenger’s refusal to look at his squad’s shortcomings is not protecting them from media abuse, as he might think. It is his blatant refusal to accept his own mistakes. A refusal to accept his stubbornness, transfer tactics and tactical naivety. Arsenal desperately need to get out of the Financial Fair Play dreamland and realise that the big clubs will not budge to UEFA rulings and that there is always a loophole. Manchester City’s sponsorship deal with Etihad and Liverpool’s shirt sponsorship deal can point to this. Also, somehow, the feeling of settling for mediocrity has been unfortunately accepted by the board, the coach and the fans themselves. Peter Hill-Wood’s recent comment that failure to qualify for Champions league would not be a disaster, points to this fact. The feeling was bound to seep into the players at some point of time.
Considering these points, the next home match against Manchester United could not have come at a worse time for Arsenal. Though United haven’t exactly been spectacular this season, they are still there at the top, fighting for the league title. A loss against United at this juncture will all but end Arsenal’s hope for qualifying for the Champions League positions. A draw would still be a favourable result, but more so for United. A win will probably delay the inevitable, but the duration surely can only be a matter of debate.