Last night after I’d had my dinner I quickly checked my phone to see the Scum v West Ham score. It was about 20 minutes in and I saw that they had bagged one early so I put my phone down and tucked in to some festive TV. “I’m not watching the media love in of ‘them’, that’s for sure” I thought.
I did the same thing when they were one up within about five minutes against Chelsea. But the difference on that occasion was that I did check before the game was finished and saw how that mental football match played out. I’m glad I did. This time I didn’t bother though, but I’m still glad about the outcome in the end. My brother – a West Ham fan – sent me a Hammers emoji and a ‘get in there’ on WhatsApp and I was like “no way!”. Great stuff. It means that they’ve lost four out of the last five and all this talk of titles and blitzing the league with ‘Angeball’ is a fairly distant memory. They’ve been riding the crest of a wave that was built on fairly shaky foundations and now it is coming home to roost just how naive some of their tactics were. They’ll be naturally lamenting their injury list, but most people have said how thin their squad was, so forgive me if I don’t shed a tear.
And that’s because everyone has had their injury problems so far this season. It feels like every team has gone through some sort of a crisis. Across all Premier League games this season we’ve had a total of 66 days missed to various injuries (I’m only counting players who would realistically play for us). I just checked and the Scum have had 86 days so far. So yes, they’ve had a few more than us and yes they’ve suffered, but included in their 86 days is Perisic who hasn’t started a game all season even when fit, Soloman who has started just two, Bryan Gil who has started two, Sessegnon who is perpetually injured and Lo Celso who has only started the last three because of injuries. From our list we do have Cedric who has been injured and he’s an outsider to start, but Timber would have been a regular and hasn’t got an injury history before his cruciate injury, but you look at our other players injured and it’s mostly players who have been starters for us, or at least have played half a dozen games. Zinchenko, Tomiyasu, Partey, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Vieira, Trossard, Martinelli, Saka, Jesus – all have missed a few games because of injury and suspension. So the injury crisis list is fair, but not the sole reason for their downfall and hopefully the media will now start to call it out.
Focusing on us though and we’ve got to say that it’s been a pretty good midweek so far, eh? I mean it’s not the most perfect midweek because Liverpool still won, but that aside we’ve seen City, the Scum and Newcastle all drop points, as they lost heavily to Everton last night too. Villa are of course the dark horses and I think they’re gonna give us one heck of a game at the weekend, but when you put in to context our pretty awesome and morale-boosting last-second winner against Luton, as Arsenal fans we go in to this weekend feeling pretty decent.
Time to halt the schadenfreude and put the game faces on tomorrow though and Mikel Arteta will no doubt echo that sentiment when we arrive there tomorrow, but today he’ll talk to the assembled journo’s at Colney and I suspect it might be an earlier one today as they’ll probably travel later on today I would have thought. There’s been a couple of times and a couple of matches when his words post disappointing performances have been “I warned them” like the West Ham defeat in the League Cup, so I suspect that he will be very much emphasizing that both publicly and to his players too.
The Newcastle game was our last defeat, but that one could have been a siege mentality builder, whereas I think that West Ham defeat may have been – oddly – a blessing in disguise too, you know. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather we’d have won it and progressed to the next round, but Arteta came out after that game and said that he warned his players and now he has the proverbial headline to pin up on the dressing room door to say “See? This is what happens when you drop even one percent in elite football”. He can remind them of the sting of that defeat and hopefully they are keeping that fresh in their minds because as long as they do, then we will get a team willing to fight until the death like they did against Luton. And then the rewards will come.
They won’t always come; we’ll have games in which late drama just doesn’t happen, but if we minimise the probability of that by keeping focused earlier in games, then the team can mitigate having to rely on late drama.
To be fair to the players this year – and the manager particularly – this rendition of The Arsenal is about control, as we’ve all heard a million times before and we’ve all spoken about as fans, which is why games like Luton have been a bit of a rarity. But I wonder what the vibe has been at the club yesterday and today now that the euphoria and adrenaline of the club has died down after Tuesday? I suspect Mikel had them all in the TV room saying “great character guys, I love it and I love you all, but, seriously….Don’t do that again, yeah?” He will have wanted a much more simpler second half and I suspect the focus in training in the last couple of days has been just that – focus, concentration, realise that any opponent can hurt you so keep your wits about you.
And as fans that’s what we want. Many of us – me included – have been slightly edgy about our lack of fluidity at the start of the season, the lack of goals and we’ve been worried about how sustainable it is to win a title. But if you control 90% of football matches and you are as tight defensively as we have been on many occasions this season, then you really do give yourself every chance. It might feel to us like fine margins, but to the players it is probably not that. Take the Wolves game for example, because there was nerves when Wolves got their goal, but Arsenal just shut the game down and remained in control to see out the match. That’s the mentality that we need and that is where you start to find very successful teams. I didn’t like it at the time, but the more this team demonstrates that it can control football matches like it has at times this season, the better our chances of the shiny silver trinkets at the end.
Catch you all tomorrow.