I have to say this question has been ringing around in my head all weekend and as I wake up this morning to start a working week it still lingers.
Why is it that, despite the fact we have so much preparation and rest time, our team can still look so lethargic in matches like Saturday’s second half?
Historically we’ve had Arsène telling us that the team looked ‘jaded’ and in seasons when we’ve been in the Champions League you could perhaps understand it. I always found it a little more difficult to swallow in October, I must admit, but by the time you get around to February and March there are some players that have played a lot of games including sometimes Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday.
And when we’ve been in the Champions League Arsène had very often refused to rotate. So we would see players looking very leggy by the time they’d played three in a week. So perhaps there was some basis for explanation. But this season we have been knocked out of the FA Cup early. That has given the players a weekend off and this weekend coming they have another bit of freizeit and an opportunity to recharge.
There’s also the fact that very few players have been involved in both midweek and weekend games, due to Arsène’s decision to field two separate teams in competitions, so we can rotate the squad a bit more. I actually agree with that in the main and haven’t had a problem with it. It should ensure no player is close to the infamous ‘red zone’ and we suffer less muscular injuries – Aaron Ramsey aside – than we usually do.
Yet we still go into some games looking like some of the players have run a marathon the day before. Why?
I’m not even talking about this weekend in isolation. The Swansea game a week and a half ago was arguably worse. As we had a weekend off, Swansea played some of their first teamers in the FA Cup, yet still they managed to be physically better than us.
How? How are we getting outdone in a part of the game that requires no real technical skill or ability, just the mindset, the drive to push yourself physically as an athlete?
We’ve brought on coaching staff who are the best in the business to ensure that the players are conditioned right and looked after. We have world class facilities at London Colney to aid recovery. We have a squad that hasn’t played a full season compared to some squads in the Premier League.
Everything is there to suggest that this season we should have an advantage. Like last season when we spent it all looking at Liverpool and Chelski and saying “ahh yeah, but they’re not playing in Europe, so that’s why they’re able to go that little further domestically”. This was meant to be the season people were saying it about us wasn’t it?
And yet here we are. First XI playing less minutes, team looking more knackered, slowly slipping further from meaningful domestic competition.
The only explanation you can assign to this decline is that the team is psychologically damaged. They’re mentally fatigued. If you talk to any footballer – I think even Merse or Perry Groves have talked about this – when you’re out of form, or losing, or just stuck in a bit of a rut, you start to think yourself tired. Perhaps that is what is happening to our players? They aren’t physically tired through overuse of their bodies, but there are such deep-rooted issues at the club that their lethargy is manifesting itself psychosomatically, I.e. they just believe they are tired so they are.
If that is true then it really is a worrying state of affairs and it really does point to a downward spiral for the club and specifically the manager. He is motivator in chief. He is the man who has to lift these players to perform and ultimately at most football clubs he would be the man to fall on the sword.
That’s not happening here at Arsenal thigh is it? The man who holds the power won’t so willingly relinquish it because he’s so blinded by the issues that are springing up around him that he’ll just carry on doing what he’s always done. The problem is he isn’t getting what he’s always got any more. Not even close. It’s getting worse.
Sadly I can’t even see the slightest ray of light any more. I used to – even up to three years ago – think that perhaps he has one more year or two in him with which to have a fight for a title. Perhaps he can surprise everyone by making Arsenal competitive. Some mates I know who are Arsenal fans but wanted him gone five or six years ago told me to stop living in a dream world. But wouldn’t it just have been great to see and so I thought “let me just have that hope that he still has it in him”.
He doesn’t. I’ve seen it now for some time and I see that this is the end. It’s the decline that none of us wanted. We wanted the victorious end. The blaze of glory for the manager so we could all remember why we fell in love with him.
It won’t happen. This is real life. Sometimes those fairytale endings don’t happen and we all need to realise that it’s time to accept that and truly and wholeheartedly embrace the change that is coming. Any change.
Catch you all tomorrow.