The 10 key factors that seem to me to be of prime influence as we enter another season.
by Tony Attwood
1: Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott
Last season Thierry Henry was reported by part of the media to have said that Arsenal needed a “top, top striker” to win the league. The newspapers chimed in with the notion that Giroud was not good enough to win the club titles. The hysteria built and suddenly we needed “three world class players”.
Forget the debate about developing your own players, about finding hidden gems. If we didn’t buy x [insert flavour of the month] we were doomed.
What the debate forgot was that as always, there are many ways to solve the same problem, and just as the Premier League evolves all the time, so do players, so do clubs, so do tactics – with Arsene Wenger usually at the spearhead of change. Indeed if things didn’t change we’d still be looking at big English centre forward thugs who strike fear into the namby-pamby foreign defenders with Corporal Jones on the terraces shouting “they don’t like it up em” as we play 3-2-2-3 in the style of Chapman.
But for a more intelligent 21st century approach how about a scenario in which for some games Theo starts at number 9 and Giroud comes on, on the hour? And in other games (depending on the opposition) Giroud starts, and Theo takes over near the end.
And yet other games in which Giroud starts as number 9 and Theo starts on the wing.
Then imagine a forward line of Alexis Giroud and Theo in which each takes it in turns to play number 9, with Alexis and Theo moving in, swapping sides, and Giroud occasionally dropping back, going for a wander, taking a dimwitted defender who can’t get the hang of it but has been told to “stick close to Giroud” but a semi-house-trained dimwit manager, with him.
Remember, opposition coaches are given the Arsenal line up one hour before kick off, after they have announced their own starting XI to the ref. Keeping the opposition waiting is never a bad idea, especially when you have genuine variables in the team. Imagine being in a side that for a week has been drilled on how to stop Theo as centre forward, only to find he’s not playing or is back on the wing.
One almost feels sorry for the poor saps. Almost, but not quite.
2. Team Spirit; Team Surprises
There is something in the way Arsene Wenger is looking at the camera and talking about the team at the moment that suggests that it is not just that all is ok in the camp but rather than there is something hidden that is about to surprise everyone. Confidence and unity seem to ooze through everything we see.
We saw this 10000% in the Unbeaten Season; everyone worked together. When Petr Cech said, “I’ve found the team spirit quite extraordinary,” it probably is true.
After all many of these players have been together quite a while now, and so friendships and understandings have had time to develop.
3. Winning mentality
“Winning mentality” is the sort of phrase that journalists throw into their chatter when they can’t think of anything else to say. What does it mean? What exactly is it? Who knows?
It is in fact one of those odd phrases that people repeat without actually thinking, “how would I know it if it came up to me in the street and slapped me round the face?”
Does Aaron Ramsey have a “winning mentality”? Well, to know that, I’d have to know exactly what it is, and then still give the guy about 40 hours of intensive psychological one-to-one analysis. And then ask for a second opinion.
But maybe a better turn of phrase is “mind set” which indicates how much we genuinely believe we are going to succeed, how much we focus, how much we work at the singular task, how easily we are put off by set-backs…
Everyone’s “mind set” is variable, although most of the time fixed within a generalised framework. But it is affected by all sorts of things like what is happening in your personal relationships, whether your young child is ill, if you are having a feud with the neighbours over a barking dog, if the crowd are on your back. Players focus, of course, but the mind can and will always play tricks.
These things take individual players up and down, but when the whole team is winning together game after game such worries can be pushed away and everyone works together even more. It becomes not the “winning mentality” of an individual player, but the collective belief of the group.
In such circumstances it is highly beneficial to have a settled squad, and where the team changes, the changes involve players who already fit in and it looks like we have this. Winning mentality remains a meaningless concept invented by journalists with nothing to say.
4: History don’t mean a thing
If it did, in football, the number of times a club wins the league three times running would be far higher than it is. History can influence how the players feel, and reduce levels of nervousness when approaching a big event, but otherwise…
So it is better that we have won six games in a row at Wembley than not, better to have the Community Shield than not, and certainly better to have won the FA Cup twice in a row than not. But it is better still to feel that this team now, is a team that can and will win things.
Not because we have a winning mentality, but because this is what we do. We go out there and put on a really good show today. There needs to be drive and realism, because if there is no realism, at the first set back everything falls apart.
5: The future is not the past
Arsenal won the league with Patrick Vieira, Tony Adams, Thierry Henry, Ted Drake… and if we don’t have one of those then the idea is that “we can’t win the league without that type of leader”. But each team is different. Each finds its own heroes. Reading the future as a re-write of the past always leads to false visions and lunatic generalisations.
What actually links Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry is that they were each the right man in the right place at the right time with the right team.
So the issue is to look at the Premier League this season, look at who we have in the squad, and then think, does this group work together, do they believe in the project, are they talented enough. If yes, we have a chance.
And onto that we can throw in a new belief.
Arsene Wenger said that the Invincibles could go through a whole season unbeaten, and they immediately lost the next match.
But then did go through the following season unbeaten. Once that roll had started they just believed. And the more Sir Alex F Word said that “Arsenal will lose this season, that’s for sure” the more determined the squad was.
And then, on ending the run of 49 with a refereeing display that should be shown at the start of every season to every ref as an example of how to do everything wrong, Arsenal fell apart. Having beaten Villa 3-1 to make it 49 unbeaten, Arsenal won only two of the next eight, and threw the season away. Hell, we even lost to Bolton.
6: Conviction and creativity
Alongside belief we have conviction. But that is not enough, because in sport, as in the arts, one also needs creativity. So forget the winning mentality – what wins the season is conviction and creativity (alongside fair-minded referees of course).
So we have a belief that we will not lose, and a view that we can be more creative than ever before, and thus having the knowledge that no matter what we can come up with something so extraordinary it will win a game on its own. We do the creativity of Bergkamp and Ozil to imagine the impossible, and then do it, and for that we need.
7. Everyone to take centre stage
Aaron Ramsey wants to play in the centre. So does Ozil. But taking centre stage is more than that. It is about having a team where, depending on the game, lots of different players could stand up as the match winner.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain did it last week. Theo did it in the first half of the cup final. Ozil can do it with one pass. Alexis did it in the second half of the cup final with a goal so wonderful that Villa players looked as if they were saying, “we’re not going to play if you’re going to do that”.
Bellerin took centre stage when he was given his chance to shine last season. So did Coquelin with a series of calm, simple interceptions and passes which made me want to sing “Are you Gilberto in disguise?”
Keep the conviction and creativity at the same time, and then you are set.
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