It’s well known that Arsene Wenger is not a shouter.
In fact, before a game he prefers his players to be well chilled out, focused and in the ‘zen zone’.
But what if that doesn’t work for these players when their confidence drops?
What if these players need fired up?
What if that’s why we see a reaction so often after the break – Wenger (or more likely Steve Bould) gets angry because they’ve been so poor in the first half, raises his voice and we see the team respond accordingly? (Chelsea aside, obviously).
If we look at Arsenal’s stats half-by-half, a problem becomes clear. That, to me, speaks to a flaw somewhere in the preparation process.
But it’s not one that has been happening all season.
Last 11 games
In the first 20 games of the season, Arsenal were losing at half time just once. In our last 11, that number has risen to four – the same number as we managed in the first 30 games.
The 20 game-run included teams like Liverpool, Southampton, Chelsea, and Spurs, none of whom we were losing against at half-time (the one side was PSG).
- We have a +16 goal difference in first halves this season – scoring 34 and conceding 18. Second halves tell a very difference story with a +30 goal difference based on 49 scored and 19 conceded.
- We’ve won just 16 first halves compared to 21 seconds.
- We’ve lost 6 first halves and 6 seconds – with four of these first half defeats coming in last 10 games.
- We’ve drawn 13 first halves compared to 6 seconds.
Of course, there are many factors in play and just looking at 1st half v 2nd half results tells us little, but it’s hard to ignore that something seems to have happened recently.
We’ve seen Arsenal come flying out of the blocks from the start, most notably against Chelsea at the Emirates earlier in the season. But as Wenger himself said before the game at Stamford Bridge, the players can fire themselves up for a game like that. At the Bridge, we started well as expected, but were rocked when our plan went wrong after just 12 minutes.
Arsenal’s style means that opponents are often worn down over the first 60 minutes, allowing Arsenal to pounce as the game closes. But people with eyes can’t help but notice that Arsenal are lacklustre in first halves recently and a transformed beast in the second.
So what happened?
Cast your mind back. In the game against Stoke, before we went to Everton, we lost Shkodran Mustafi to a hamstring injury. Not only did this unsettle us in defence, it also deprived us of his distribution from the back.
As our tactics expert told me, “Against Everton, we also persisted with that weird 424 variant that had worked vs the likes of Bournemouth and West Ham, but came undone against a proper team with actual tactics.”
Could it really be that simple?
Could the loss of Mustafi, leading to two disappointing results in a row against Everton and City, be all this side needed to lose their confidence?
It’s no secret that Arsenal have all the mental strength of a jellyfish in a blender. They’ve certainly fallen apart over less.
In the end, with so many variables in play, we will probably never get to the bottom of why Arsenal have suddenly become a bit rubbish at first halves.
In the meantime, it strikes me that whatever Wenger and Bould are saying at halftime when we are losing should perhaps be said before the game starts.
Let’s see what happens.