Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And Out Come The Wolves

Not an easy game to follow a rotten result: Wolves away.

And Arsenal have a habit of letting one bad result become two or three, letting a mere setback become a poor run. This has been the case for even the strongest of Wenger's Arsenal teams. When the unbeaten run ended against United in 2004, instead of forgetting a fairly unfortunate defeat and moving on, Arsenal were dragged down into a dreadful run that saw them unable to beat the likes of Crystal Palace.

Now is not a time for self-pity: this week sees a trip not only to Wolves but also to Everton, who usually, with the obvious exception of last season's surreal opening fixture, give Arsenal a stern test.

Excuses are, at this point, not well stocked. Injuries are fairly few by Arsenal standards (although many players, most obviously Fabregas, don't look 100% fit) and there have been enough warnings this season. Some games have been lost abjectly, and others have seen poor performances let off the hook. There's been little or no fluency to Arsenal's play, despite the myth that they are the league's great entertainers. Not being able to find top gear is forgivable but what isn't is the inability to find a way to dig out results consistently. The same mistakes are being made over and over, with no accountability. Bad as Arsenal were against Newcastle, they shouldn't have lost the game. Newcastle barely made an opportunity. But if you keep giving goals away as cheaply as Arsenal do, you're making a big problem for yourself.

There's a fundamental difference between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. I don't think 'nice' men would make great football managers, but Sir Alex Ferguson is a complete bastard. I mean this as a compliment. You can imagine the terror that United's players would feel after 45 minutes of poor play. The knowledge that you're about to be eaten alive. For some, this would motivate, for others, it would be paralysing. That, rather than than pure technical ability, is what defines good players. Character.

What other reason could you give for United continuing to outperform Arsenal? Their team features the likes of O'Shea, Park, and others. Players nobody would ever get excited about. But they're effective.

Arsene Wenger, at this juncture, seems hopelessly obsessed with technique at the expense of character (and arguably physical power).A lot of the Arsenal players don't look particularly bothered when they lose. In interviews, they talk a good game. Maturity and mentality are the buzzwords. But that's all bullshit. They have to do their talking on the pitch and the writing on the Emirates turf on Sunday carried a stark message. It said that these guys could be humiliated by West Brom, come back only a month or so later and repeat the trick.

How many times do they have to relapse into mediocrity before you just give up? You might see a win against Wolves as evidence of charcter, of bouncebackability, but a couple weeks back they beat Man City and it proved just another in a long list of false dawns.

If, sadly, a top four finish is the genuine summit of the club's ambition, Spur's dropped points at home to Sunderland are a boost. But with the top clubs generally looking vulnerable, it's an awful pity that we aren't looking at an Arsenal side capable of winning the league.

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