This weekend just gone I spent in Northumberland with The Management’s family and, travelling back from the North East via car gives you plenty of time to think. Inevitably my thoughts centred around the Arsenal and whilst I listened to United beat Southampton and the subsequent radio phone-ins, I was able to ponder over the weekend that was, as well as the season that Arsenal have had so far.
It’s interesting because no matter how I view what we’ve seen so far, I find myself keeping on coming back to that opening day defeat to West Ham, as well as the knock on effects of it.
The performance that day has helped to set the tone for some of our performances so far this season, I think, as I believe the team had been dealt a bit of a psychological blow by losing the opening game of the season. West Ham have been a team we’ve had a pretty good record with and one of the consistent things about this Arsenal team in the recent past has been its ability to out these kinds of teams to the sword. Especially at home. But that defeat showed a fallibility about the team and that – to me at least – has remained within the squad psyche ever since. I don’t have any insight or any direct line to the players, it just feels like we’re a little more vulnerable than we were last season. Call it a ‘hunch’ or ‘gut feel’, if you like.
Of course there’s also the pure mathematics of the West Ham defeat that have also not helped this season’s narrative. Had we laboured to a one-nil win against the Hammers, we’d be sitting on 13 points and whilst we’d still be licking our wounds at the injustice of the weekend, we’d be two points off City and things would not look that bad I don’t think. I’d probably be able to even shrug off the defeat and announce that we’ve still had a decent start to the season, performances aside.
But at this early stage in the season, ever victory feels a lot bigger when you look at the table, so when you have a result like City had against West Ham you can see that their opening five-game winning streak has effectively given them a ‘get out of jail free’ card with yesterday’s defeat. We are not so fortunate to have such a card at this moment in time because of the early defeat to West Ham, but I wonder what mine – and City fans’ – thoughts would have been had the fixture list been reversed and we’d have just lost to West Ham having seen City and Liverpool already lose at home to the irons?
Perhaps it would be worse. Perhaps people would be sharpening the pitchforks more than they already are, but all I know is that when you’re this early in to a season, every defeat seems to feel like it affects you more. Is it because the dreams for a successful season are still alive? Possibly. If we’d have just lost to Chelski in January we’d already have an idea of how our season is going and what our objectives are. For now the objectives remain fluid; a versatile ‘stake in the ground’ on what we’re aiming for, which means fan sentiment and anger is heightened when we suffer a defeat. The fact that we’re still less than a month since the transfer window closed probably also has an impact, because for many fans so desperate for us to sign a host of top-top-quality players, the memory of Arsenal’s failings in the market are still fresh and very raw.
I’m not suggesting that I’m more happy to accept a defeat in December or January, but perhaps it’s because my expectations have been set for the season, bedded in and I know where we’re at.
Right now all I know is the uncertainty. Are we going to compete for the league? Are we going to continue to stutter like we did at the beginning of last season? Will this be the year in which we ‘Spurs it up’ in terms of maintaining our Champions League status? It’s all an unknown at the moment.
And that’s what makes me so uncomfortable. The fear. The fear of the unknown. It’s why I’m also looking at our goalscoring at the moment and getting more and more concerned with every shot dragged wide. I know, having watched the same team last season, that we have plenty of players capable of scoring goals. Yet it’s not quite working. Why? Our players are playing in similar positions to those that they did last year, so why now are they so profligate, when at the end of last season they were so efficient? Think about how we swept aside Villa in the FA Cup. Where’s that ruthless streak gone?
Again, I find myself coming back to the start of today’s blog and the psychology of football, what is going on in the players minds and how does the manager point them in the right direction? Is it a crisis in confidence that needs to be addressed? Is it that our star man is fatigued and so hasn’t clicked yet?
I don’t know, but whatever it is, with big games coming every three days, we need some ‘clicking’ to happen now.
Catch y’all tomorrow.