The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “inevitable” as ‘Certain to happen; unavoidable.’
It is informally described as ‘So frequently experienced or seen that it is completely predictable.’ But as of Wednesday night, the Oxford Dictionary can now save itself some ink by deleting both those examples and simply replace them with one word;
The last two losses, to a Manchester United team that was so young it needs permission slips from their parents to play away from home, and a Swansea team who had rested their best players to keep them fresh for a relegation six-pointer, weren’t predictable in their occurrence, but in the manner in which they occurred. Both games had a ten-minute spell in which Arsenal had to maintain focus and discipline, and both times they failed.
Both games had a ten-minute spell in which Arsenal had to maintain focus and discipline, and both times they failed.
After last week’s defeat to Barcelona, I wrote that Arsenal has to avoid falling into the trap of being satisfied with a close loss to their rivals. I was under the impression that this Arsenal team had looked at the task of beating the best team in the world with such a level of panic that they forgot their tactical discipline. It was an understandable error, but a fixable one.
But I was wrong.
It’s not that Arsenal looks like a team that doesn’t believe they can beat Barcelona, they look like a team that doesn’t think they can beat anybody. Every time they concede a goal, it seems to serve as further proof that they’re going to lose, hence their knack of completely losing focus for 10 minutes after conceding.
It’s getting so bad, that even the occasions where they prove themselves wrong don’t seem to spur them into life. You’d have thought that beating the league leaders with a 95th-minute winner would have been the perfect way of dispelling any doubts about their lack of ability to close out games, but that seems to have been dismissed as an aberration.
A fluke, even.
Myself and Matthew Wade were on this week’s Daily Cannon podcast discussing Arsenal’s need for a scrappy win just to boost confidence, but Arsenal were playing just fine against both Manchester United and Swansea, right up until the point where the result was in doubt.
Then they crumbled.
The biggest worry shouldn’t be the fact that Arsenal seem unable to rouse themselves out of this stupor, it’s that it has set in again . This is not a problem that is exclusive to this set of players.
This has happened to Arsenal teams in a position to win trophies for over a decade now, and has once again hampered their title chances.
Have a look at this lineup and tell me how many of these players you would call ‘bottlers’, for example;
David Seaman, Lauren, Pascal Cygan, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Freddie Ljungberg, Ray Parlour, Gilberto Silva, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord.
Except for Cygan, there isn’t a player there who you wouldn’t want in this year’s squad, if not the starting XI.
So why this list of players?
On March 2nd 2003, Arsenal went eight points clear. By the 26th of April, they were two points behind in second, and the above lineup was the one that lost a two-goal lead at Bolton that day.
So much time has gone by since then that one of the players that played that day has had a statue of himself built outside the ground, and another who was on the bench, Dennis Bergkamp, was also immortalised in bronze. Despite this, the problem in dealing with adversity seems to be a common thread throughout.
Losing the Champions League quarter-final in 2004, losing the 2006 Champions League final, falling away in the league after Eduardo broke his leg in 2008 (two words – William Gallas.), the League Cup final in 2011, losing to Monaco in the……. (Ed – ENOUGH!!!!!! WE GET IT!!!!!)
Now, I can already hear your rebuttals.
Being 2-1 down to Liverpool in the game after losing to Chelsea in the Champions League in 2004, beating Stoke in the game Aaron Ramsey broke his leg in 2010, the FA Cup final in 2014 and so on. Yes, there are examples of Arsenal responding well to adversity, but none of these have served as warnings to prevent lack of focus during these games in the first place.
And that’s the problem.
Time and time again, Arsenal have put themselves in the best possible position to fail.
That is why the loss to Swansea is so disheartening, because once again Arsenal have proceeded to put their foot into the biggest bear trap possible, and then urinate on it. It’s not the fact that it happened that hurts, it’s that it happened again.
Because this is a problem that has plagued Arsenal for over a decade, only the people who have been there throughout this period can be held truly responsible for it being allowed to resurface again and again.
In this regard, there is only one person who fits this description; Arsene Wenger.
As admirable as it is to see him allow his players to impart their own personalities onto the way we play, it is ultimately this policy that has seen those players consistently fail. As much as we would like to believe that our players have the mental toughness to get themselves out of trouble, it cannot be left for them to sort it out by themselves.
How can we be so sure that nothing is being done behind the scenes to correct this? Just look at how this current team plays and how errors like too much space forming between the defence and midfield, or forward runs not being made, or opposition forwards not being marked correctly happen every week, and don’t get fixed.
If the players aren’t told of their mistakes, then the manager has to be accountable. If the players are ignoring, or unable to follow, instructions that are given to them and aren’t being replaced because of this, then the manager has to be held accountable. If the manager believes that the players will figure this out themselves, and the players then don’t, then the manager has to be held accountable.
It was inevitable that this run of bad form was coming. It was inevitable that fans and media alike would call for change. It was inevitable that Arsene Wenger would call for a ‘response’ from his players.
If the pattern of the last decade continues, then the same players who have shown they can’t cope with losing will be trusted in again.
If this happens, and the players once again show a lack of ability to cope with pressure, then the only thing that will be inevitable is for Arsenal to look at its manager and say ‘Well if you won’t change this, we need someone who will.’
As someone who wishes to see only the best for Arsene Wenger, I truly hope he avoids this inevitability.