Mental strength – two words guaranteed to make any Arsenal fan laugh or shake their head. But against Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday we saw actual mental strength from this Arsenal side.
1. We’ve heard about it
Wenger talks about it all the time, most often when it certainly hasn’t been on display in any shape or fashion, and there’s been plenty of that this season.
But you cannot argue that Arsenal came out at Wembley and played like it was the final itself.
That of course, raises the questions ‘what happened?’ and ‘why have they not been playing like that recently? Why did they struggle so badly against, oh my god, the list is endless isn’t it? I think I’ve actually tried to blank them all out of my brain.
West Brom, Bayern Munich…actually, I don’t think you need to go any further back that the Bayern tie to find the root of this most recent problem.
That 10-2 drubbing absolutely destroyed our team.
I mean, Bayern Munich didn’t just break us, they smashed us into a thousand pieces and stomped on the shards. We’ve heard Arsene Wenger say that Mesut Ozil was badly affected, but I think that it went right throughout the entire team.
These are highly paid professional who hear from Arsene Wenger that they are the best in the world.
They hear this week in, week out, day in, day out at training as Wenger builds their confidence and fills them with what they need, with what he believes is required to go out onto the pitch and have total and utter self-belief in themselves.
They then went toe-to-toe with one of the best sides in Europe and lost badly. It’s not like losing to Bayern Munich is something we haven’t experienced before, but it was the destruction of it, the absolute total humiliation, the manner in which we capitulated and just could not compete.
The frustrating thing about that is we were competing perfectly well until Laurent Koscielny was sent off. Or taken off injured.
The manner in which we fell apart absolutely broke this side and I truly do believe that it has taken this long for Arsene Wenger and the players to get their head around what happened and realise that this is a side that destroyed Chelsea earlier in the season and went 19 or 20 games unbeaten.
This side is good, but they’re mentally frail.
They weren’t mentally frail at Wembley against Manchester City.
They came from a goal behind. They stuck it out through extra time. They had a gameplan in the first half to hold it tight, keep the game level, and don’t let City get a lead. Then in the second half, we’ll be more expansive.
This is not the first time that Arsene Wenger has wheeled out these tactics, albeit it’s the first time he’s done it in 20 years with a back three.
We’ve seen it against City. We’ve seen it against Bayern and Barca. Hold it tight in the first half, expand in the second, and that’s exactly what we did.
Pep Guardiola can whinge about long balls and us being taller and all that other crap. We can listen to City fans cry about Arsenal kicking them off the pitch but come on, how pathetic does your side have to be to be bullied by Arsenal or make them look like a side of ‘thugs’?
What we saw was a strong Arsenal side. It was a side of adults who stood up and were willing to do what it took to get a result.
That’s what’s been missing – they didn’t have that belief that they could.
Next – But is it a one-off?