Well, that’s an understatement if ever there was one, right?
Sadly, as we write this, we’re coming off the back of two defeats, albeit one that had some dubious ‘textbook refereeing that greatly influenced the game. But even without the influence of Martin Atkinson (should a referee ever influence a game that much?) one thing about this squad right now is painfully clear — they’re not in the right frame of mind.
Deep down, we all knew that Arteta had a massive job on his hands when he took the reins, but it’s really hitting home now just how much of a job that is. You see, regardless of the undisputed talent at the club, the self-belief in the squad is on a downward spiral. And no, a complete clear out and plenty of fresh faces won’t change a thing.
Arteta needs to use his charm and guile (and perhaps even a few hands of poker) to help instill that feeling of confidence and that winning mentality that is missing from so many of his players.
Heads have dropped
Even though all the paper talk is of Aubameyang pondering his future and Ozil being left out in the cold, there was a definite belief among us fans that things were heading in the right direction. The break from football and the subsequent mini-preseason were an opportunity for a fresh start. Yes, the first match was against reigning champions City, but this was a chance for Arteta and his squad to show that they’re not just there to make up the numbers.
And you know what? The belief was there in the squad too, but it evaporated just like that when they saw two injuries followed by David Luiz and his one-man show. The speed with which heads dropped was staggering. When Luiz received his marching orders, you could almost see the squad deflate and accept defeat.
At Brighton, we saw a lack of self-belief once again rear its ugly head, although not quite as bad as at the Etihad. Brighton were there for the taking, and poor refereeing aside, we should have been able to see them off long before Maupay (who we won’t talk too much about again) scored that injury-time goal. Pepe’s goal was sensational and we looked like we might finally show some self-belief, but, once again any hopes seemed to disappear when Dunk scored on 75 minutes.
Sure we huffed and puffed, but that lack of belief had a telling effect on the performance.
What’s the solution?
So does Arteta bring in a psychology coach and go all Brendan Rodgers on the squad?
Should he send the squad off on a team-building weekend? Do they start doing trust exercises in the canteen after training? Perhaps all of those would work, but an easier shout would be to just get the team playing some cards.
You might laugh, but we’re serious here. Poker, or at the very least, the methods used by poker players, could very well be the answer to our mindset problems. Take the match against City for example. Here we have a game that we lost as soon as the first goal went in. Everyone’s head went down and there seemed to be a resignation that we were in too deep. There was no belief that we could pull it out of the bag which, with a better attitude, we may have been able to do.
So, what the hell has this to do with poker? Well, any poker strategy guide will tell you that self-confidence is hugely important and that mindset is everything. Go into a game with the belief that you can win and you’re halfway there. But it’s not just that. Poker also teaches you that losing isn’t so bad because, after all, you can’t win every hand right? The difference between a poker player and the likes of Luiz is that the poker pro will learn from his mistakes and not let failure affect his mindset. Luiz, on the other hand, well let’s not go there.
When that first City goal went in, or when Lewis Dunk scored at the weekend, the poker mindset would tell us that this is just a blip. A minor setback to overcome. We would take stock of what happened and not let it happen again. It’s a type of mindset that is hard to teach unless it is put into practice on a regular basis. Like we said earlier, that’s where poker comes into it. Get the players playing card tournaments regularly and make it competitive (not for cash though). This will help to boost their belief in themselves and improve their decision-making skills. We know it sounds weird but if the players have a hobby that builds self-confidence, then why not?
But poker and trust exercises aren’t the only thing we need. We also need some experienced players in the squad who are born winners. Players who have been there and done that and who will instill confidence in the rest of the squad just by simply being there. The sort of thing that Ozil should be doing and the effect that Aubameyang has had since he first arrived.
We’re guessing that was the idea when Luiz joined the squad but, despite his initial impact, the whole transfer has been nothing short of a disaster. His former Chelsea teammate Willian may be a good option this transfer window, but we’re not convinced of his leadership qualities. Mertens would have been perfect had his new contract with Napoli not put him out of the picture.
But what about Cavani and Meunier? Both are leaving PSG and both have a wealth of experience to draw on. Anyone who can survive in a squad with Neymar must have the patience of a saint.
Whoever Arteta turns to, one thing is crystal clear — we need experience in the squad to help us create that winning mindset that we so desperately need.
Anything less and we’re doomed to another season of going through the motions.