It’s what you think that matters on the biggest stage

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By Tony Attwood

I’ve rambled on here before about the fact that I have never played semi-pro football, never refereed, never managed a team, and that my highest achievement in the world of active football was at the very amateur level.  And even then only if others didn’t show up.

So by and large you can take it that I know bugger all about actually playing the game.

But I do know a little about performance and personal delivery “on the day” as it were, and in this area maybe there is a little common ground between myself and those who play.

Over the years I have earned my money either as a musician or as a writer, and I’ve occupied my spare time as a dancer (which explains why I was useless as a footballer – people who can do one can’t do the other).  And my point is that as anyone who works in any creative field where individual talent has to be put on display knows, you get bad days and good days.  But curiously, it is often difficult to know quite why one day is good and one isn’t.

In my days on the road as a musician playing with small time rock bands that acted as warm-ups for the stars of the show, I could never really tell  in advance if I was going to just get by on stage or actually turn in a performance something that was worth writing home about.  And from my conversations with other musicians, I think many of them found the same.  Likewise today, I never quite know if the commercial writing I am going to deliver for a client is of the “I guess that will just about do” variety, or whether I will look at it and say, “I don’t care what the client thinks, that’s bloody brilliant.”

Such, I guess, is the situation with top of the range footballers. They can be brilliant, stunning, and just overwhelming, and then it fails to happen.

Some of it I think is mental, and some of it is the old “rub of the green”.   We seem to have hit the post and bar a few times recently, and been up against keepers who seem to be able to find just the right place at the right moment to stick out a hand or leg.  In each game, even when we lose, we have more attempts and more attempts on target than the opposition.   That must affect the mental process – knocking back our players, pushing the chests out of theirs.   You could almost see this on sunday against Newcastle – as we didn’t make it happen in the first half, they started to look at each other and (as if little bubbles came out of their heads as per the comic books) think “we could get something from this”.

Belief in yourself, when you are on any sort of stage before an audience, is everything.   Lose it, and you lose the ability to perform, be it as an actor or a musician, as a stand up comic or a footballer.   Indeed there are thousands of mind coaches in the wider world trying to deal exactly with this issue, although I have never come across a single on who can change a performer who can’t do most of the work himself or herself.

So it is with writers – when you stop believing in your ability to sit at the computer and to come up with words and phrases that actually use the language in an interesting and exciting way, you give up.  It’s called “writer’s block” and virtually every writer under the sun gets it some time or other.

And this I think must be a bit of the problem. The players know that everyone is going to raise their game against Arsenal, as well as engaging in that awful timewasting that is now the destruction of top level football.   But when the Arsenal players utterly believe in themselves again, it will all come out ok.  Not least because the only way to beat timewasting is by scoring first.

The Invincibles had this belief in themselves totally during the unbeaten season – but if you recall what happened after the defeat in the 50th game, you’ll know how fragile belief is.  Could they lose one and then pick up and start another run?  Could they hell!  It was painful for a few matches, and as a result we lost the league title.

What ends a bad run of non-belief is generally a spot of luck – a ball that at this moment would hit the post and go out, hits the post and goes in.  Suddenly everyone feels they can do it, and off we go again.

Shouldn’t Wenger be able to lift the team? Well, up to a point, but if he could every time there’s a dip, he would have made himself not only a brilliant manager but also one of the greatest psycho-therapists of all time.  The fact that Sir F Word and Arsene Wenger use such utterly different tactics to motivate players, and that indeed Sir F Word seems to vere violently between being a father figure and the deliverer of wholesale abuse, suggests there is no answer.

Of course in the stadia and on the blogs we can make it worse by moaning and groaning, or we can try and help the club and the players by being positive.  It depends how you feel I guess.


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29 Replies to “It’s what you think that matters on the biggest stage”

  1. Agreed tony but is it not the same thing that makes or breaks a team? Like you mentioned the “Writers block”We know that everybosy gets into it.. Its how you get over it that matters..The loss is ok,Yes it is but it needs to seen how quickly we can turn it around and get back to winning ways.
    On a positive side, we have RVP finally back in the reckoning !!

  2. Interesting article, Tony.

    I was a bit like a young footballer who didn’t graduate to the professional ranks where music was concerned. Trained a lot, played quite a few concerts through the years, suffered the sweaty palms, the ‘oh fuck I really ballsed up the first solo, now I must listen to the other guy play the piano beautifully showing me up and next up is the worst bit of the whole piece! (which on that day, miraculously, I nailed moment of gaining self-belief on the stage)’, the ‘hey, that was the first time I went out there and nailed it all!’, before one day, for reasons I can’t fathom and I certainly wouldn’t want to extend to any other unique person, a calm came into me and going on stage became a pleasure not an experience of terror. For me it was about certain personal technical inner wins. Being happy with how I was playing, enjoying the daily practice (the music worlds’ word for ‘training’) and seeing the daily work yield rewards. Once you know you can play the piece, once you REALLY know you can do it, you can be relaxed about it. Sometimes you must step back one step to step forward three steps next year. Sometimes it is a matter of being put on stage too soon, playing pieces too hard for you at that stage of expertise. It depends on who you are. Some folks only want the stage when they feel ready for it, for others, the stage is where their lights switch on. Each person is unique that way.

    But maturity comes when you get a team who reached their own position of being relaxed and focussed on the big occasions. Without talking to the players, it would be hard for me to say how far Arsenal are off that right now.

    What I saw yesterday was a bit different to you. It wasn’t dreadful, although there were three dreadful mistakes made. Two with effects, one without effect. Both Chamakh and Walcott seemed slightly jaded from Donetsk. Not hugely so, but just enough to take the edge off their unique strengths. Fabregas is still slightly below his hugely high peak performance. Like Torres this season, he is struggling with injuries and only slowly returning to a peak. It may also be mental: I know myself that when you reach a huge goal, there is sometimes an emptiness, a ‘what now?’ for a while. Perhaps in his case there is also a frustration that he got the winners’ medal but wasn’t on the pitch as much as he wanted to be? I don’t know, but those would be possible…….there is also the Barca summer thing: if he crossed the manager, I suspect he will be sold at a time to ensure he doesn’t play so well for anyone else. It’s one of the aspects of football I don’t really like………

    I think Arsenal should be asking after training: was our tactical approach right? My sister said: ‘we played to their strengths and our weaknesses’. Their defence was well organised and their players are bigger. Such chances as we had came from keeping the ball on the deck. Our forwards were not dynamic enough in making sharp runs in tight spaces to create a passing opportunity when Newcastle defended the 18 yard line. When they did that, rewards without goals came.

    If I were being critical, I would ask whether Arsenal are prepared well enough tactically for each opponent. I can’t comment on what goes on, I can only comment on what I see at the stadium. Unless you are Mick Jagger, you can’t use the same chat up lines on all women as the more lowly folks amongst us must show our emotional skills rather than ripple the knee-weakening muscles which sadly we don’t enjoy………the players are good enough to play with more tactical formations than they currently do. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing? Well, I guess that’s the manager’s job…………

    I’m afraid though that now we played Sunderland, West Brom and Newcastle and got one point. You don’t win titles that way……although I suspect that this season’s points total of the Champions may be lower than for a few years, so all is not lost yet……

  3. I feel we are tactically limited sometimes. Why always use the same (awesome)patient,attacking style of play. If we can`t bring down the wall that time-waisting/defending teams bring up, we should change the tactics during the game. I think we miss that ability. Why not change to a 4-4-2 sometimes? Strikers enough en midfield is dominated most of the times.

    The lonely striker role seems difficult for Chamakh when we are behind.

  4. Tony, your analogy of playing in a band is fine up to a point but, in general, the demons that stop you performing at your best are only in your own head – not wearing different shirts and paid a small fortune to prevent you succeeding.
    Targetting the opponents perceived weakness (see Joey Bartons comments today) is how opponents deal with us – that and the fact that we always play the same, home or away, despite who is in the team. If you only play one way you have to be so good at it that no one can deal with it and I’m tempted to say that, at the moment, we’re not firing on all cylinders due to the sheer number of games being played and the fact that a handful of key players are not fully fit or off form – or both. ‘Spirit’ can get you through in certain circumstances but it only seems to work for teams who rely on a more physical approach to the game than we do.
    Opponents always target one of our defenders in the air. It’s usually Clichy in open play and it’s always the keeper (whoever he is) at set pieces. It will only stop (and stop working) when we have players who have no perceived weakness.
    They tend to counter our attacking play by playing deep to give Walcott no space to run into or, if he’s not playing, by playing up the pitch to to keep Chamakh or Bendtner well away from goal(RVP offers something different). In the latter case dribblers like Nasri or Wilshere come into their own. Having a variety of players in the team who can adopt whatever tactics are needed at any point makes you difficult to deal with. But they’ve all got to be on the same wavelength at the same time – maybe the same split second. And that’s where playing in a band is so close – but it’s back to those demons again and how much they want to stop you performing. One thing is certain – our own fans should understand whose side they’re on and not be with the demons.

  5. We need a fens shui master to revitalize Emirates with good energy.

    Seem like our players’ energy and luck disperse when they play at Emirates.

    At Highbury, we had the Invicibles – we shouldn’t have moved stadiums, we should have just renovated the Highbury!

    Ok, so that’s not tactical or even intelligent sounding, but when Arse talks about luck, feng shui should be the answer.

    Trust Arsene will listen to me?

    🙂 🙂

  6. So its all your fault Phoenix. How much do you want not to come to the stadium again? (and that of course was a joke).

  7. You can sense the black November is back and in full gear. We shall about two more games this November before we get into December. Dont ask me which games trust me we are still loosing.

  8. Well it was like being in a funeral in the pub after the game. Newcastle did us no complaints. We only had one shot from open play in the first half! I always like to think that lessons will be learnt from defeats. For me the key points are. 1) Flapianski has shown he cannot cope with aerial strongmen and he is just not good enough. Today was a day when that old cliche a good GK can give you 10 points a season comes to mind. Yep – Flappy cannot make a difference in a game and cannot earn us points. 2) Walcott cannot start a game. He is an impact player as a sub. Today he was back to his old ways of playing on the flank and he got very little. Bascially we dont have a plan B when we go behind to a half decent team. It was too easy for Newcastle. We need 10 passes to get the ball up to the an attacking position. Plenty of time for Newcastle to regroup and defend. Lessons for me – or more pointedly Mr Wenger; buy a GK and DM in January and sort out these tactics that leave us so one-dimensional. I was at the end where the sending off happened. It looked a tame foul but if he was last man then he had to go off. Not sure Ranger was in a goal scoring position though. Miserable day, feels like we are still going round in circles and Cesc looks disinterested. Is this to be expected if he doesnt want to be here? We better be up for it at Wolves! I wonder if Wenger will be sleeping in spare room eh!
    Everyone in the league is capable of giving us a game currently and that can only mean one thing: My prediction of becoming a mid-table team has finally come to fruition. We go into every game looking fragile and unassured like a Spud team. Gone are the days when a decent Arsenal fan do not have to worry about banana skins. Now I’m looking at the Wolves game with much scrutiny and with as much confidence of 3 points as I have of winning the weekly lottery. No I don’t deserve any credit for being a sage predicting all these. It’s real easy with Arsenal really since 5 years ago if you think with your head and not with your heart. The apologists/wengerites should give it a try. And no I don’t mind eating humble pie if Arsenal can prove me wrong with current their below-par capabilities. Humble pies will taste great for my heart and I don’t mind at all eating them. Problem is I ordered for one 5 years ago but the restaurant manager named Wenger has been putting me on hold ever since because apparently he’s busy squeezing the restaurant performer/rapper from Paris that I finally realised only last week. A toast to November. You did it again with the consistency that this team desperately need for their football lives.
    The last two games have put serious doubt in me that we can win anything this season. Van Persie, Bendtner, Arshavin, Fabianski are players that have put us in this sorry state. Van Persie is injury prone and unless referee protect him and opponents show mercy may not do better than he did yeterday. Bendtner is lazy, not skillful and does not pose any attacking threat to meaningful opponents. Arshavin is highly overrated and like his compatroit put it recently can not make impact in big games. This leaves us with Chamakh who at present is full of 18 yd box side passes, as instructed by Wenger, and Walcott who does not know whether to play from the right or from the middle of the pack. Then there is Fabianski who has cemented his fame as a faulty keeper. Wenger in the interim, insist that Van Persie and Bendtner gets to 100% fitness before playing for us or for their countries as we do not urgently need them. In the medium term look to bring in a decent striker in the January transfer window and in the long term review your footballing philosophy as other teams seem to get better players than us yet we claim to have good scouting network. That defeat at Emirates by Newcastle is one too many and should not happen again this season

  9. I saw the game and I cant fault the players efforts and determination despite some injuries… That is not like long-ball punts or running like a headless chicken… Whenever Arsenal had the ball, there will 11 Newcastle players in front of the goal, I mean literally 11 players… Patience was virtue of the day and there were chances, either foiled by Krul or the post… Maybe the players were looking for an inspiration which failed to summoned… Sometimes, the winning team does not get the merit that they deserved… Newcastle was superb and near perfect… Came with a gameplan and execute it admirably… A classic soak and release tactic… Kudos to their brave manager and young players… It is not end of the world for Arsenal just yet… The manager is still there, players are still there, the loyal & royal fans are still there to stay & support… The impatient, grunting and moaning fans (AAA) is about to leave the building… Yahoo…

  10. I forgetten to include something previously… 6-7 hours before the game, I was going through an Arsenal blog (maybe Gonnerholic, I apologize if I was wrong, my memory power is “legendary”)… That was this article which included some words about Bebe, the Man Utd boy… Some unnecessary comments about his background and upbringing such as homeless and clueless was uttered… It kinda drove me bonkers… I replied about the writer’s indiscreet and literally hoped it will not back-fire on Arsenal FC… It did hours later… The same curse which damned many people screwing Arsenal, screwed Arsenal…

  11. You joke, but my Spuds-supporting boss is trying to pool funds to buy me a seat for the next Arsenal vs Spuds match… he’s referring to me as “the rabbit’s foot”.

    Anyway it’s quite disheartening enough, I’m not planning to go back for a while!

  12. Critic. Another highly intelligent contribution from you, where do you get such wisdom from.

  13. What do you do with teams that packed the defence 6 footers? Teams that will not play to your tune and play for a draw? Teams that will do you in with a direct approach ala a free kick to your jerky defence? And what about doing the Indian dance but not taking shots?

    Newcastle has an in-form, gigantic kamakaze striker and what did we do? Will we ever come learn?

    Sigh… I suppose I’m luckier than my friend whose a 30-yr fan of Ispwich Town… Paul Mariner and the like.

  14. That was just a poor performance. End of. You can only blame Fabianski so far because we didnt score. That is our problem right now. For all our attacking talent we simply are not scoring enough (and early enough) at home right now.

    I really didnt think Chamakh played well at all on Sunday. Perhaps his worst showing for us. I think RvP is coming back at the right time. Can he stay healthy?

    Cesc is just in awful form. He must be worried about his hamstring or something because he just looks very shaky and tentative.

    We need a big rebound midweek.

  15. And hooray for the Liverpool Red Sox yesterday (please dont anyone tell me that nickname is racist!!!!!).

  16. Just like insideright was saying i just dont think arsenal have this “spirt” to get as through games. Were just to French! No english grit what so ever, chelski wouldn’t have lost that game so for the reasons that 11 games in 3 we have alreday lost, 2 to teams we should steamroll at home and we have beautiful knack of never winning when it matters so we can close the gap we just aint gonna win simple as. Plus i mean black november just seems to have kicked in, were still got to get thorugh the month (wolves will not be easy!) and were just bound to lose to manure when we play them after getting through november so as far the prem goes sorry no chance. Though i think we will be the closet to chelski this year.

    Personally i would like some english spirt, some voices in the dressing room, a ray parlour, a tony adams or a martin keown. I bet anyone £10 that our changing room is the quitiest in the hole prem.

    I said before on here that i think arsenal moves are sometimes too slow not quick enough and even at times not direct enough, well all of that was definitely the case yesterday. 11 passes were made when 3 would have done, allowing newcastle to shape up always not enough movement from players without the ball was another problem.

  17. Great article, and I agree completely.

    There’s a lack of belief in many of our players; you see it in the way they hesitate in the final third, they doubt themselves at these crucial moments. They see a gap but don’t make the pass or shot, they don’t believe in themselves enough to make it.

    I believe it also manifests itself physically. They can be timid in the challenge, lacking the physical confidence to use all of their strength or speed or power against their opponents.

  18. I forget, some changes to the backroom staff wouldn’t be bad either. Gerry Peyton, well he should be sacked! He must be a “yes-man” because if he thinks what we have at the moment is good enough well hes clearly not up the the job. Either that or Wenger is not listening. GK im on about if no-one knows. Get in Seaman from the youngters division in charge with Bob Wilson out of retirement as our keepers scout. Also Adams would be great adition to sort out a defensive worries. Show them boys how to defend and how inportante it is to defend as a team. Finally lets get Gary Lewin back, less injuries!!!

  19. Being English has got nothing to do with it btw!

    The West Ham, Birmingham and Newcastle games plus the away game at Shaktar are too many examples to be just wished away as an off day. Arsene’s comments were just tired, heard all that before (need to score first, other team all grown Men). Yesterday we were awful, clueless, drab and we have been like that too often in this still young season.

    I yield to no one in my admiration for Arsene Wenger and for sure there is no easy alternative strategy but we have to be realistic. Support for Arsene should not be some sort of cult of worship.

    This squad has not been able to pick up points off it’s main rivals and now it is shipping copious points to so called lesser teams, Wolves away midweek looks well tough now and they will be right up for it!

    I go to all the home games and watch it all over and over on TV (sad I know). I am not confident, we look fragile, we get beat, we are predictable, our players seem made of fine porcelain (see Nasri yesterday, typical D’oh) we could be out of this by Christmas.

    Big wins needed max points for the rest of the month, that means beating Chelsea, anyone putting money on us?

  20. It isnt surprising that this team sometimes lacks belief. That comes with experience. I grew up in Canada during the late-70’s, early 80’s and watched the great Edmonton Oilers team of that time develop. It was amazing to watch. They had a slew of future all-time greats in the team, all teenagers. Wayne Gretzky (the greatest ever), Mark Messier (in the top 5 of greatest ever), Paul Coffey (one of the greatest defenders ever), Jari Kurri (one of the greatest pure goalscorers ever), Grant Fuhr (the best pressure ‘keeper of his era), Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe (both hall of famers). It was a remarkable team. It took that team, one of the greatest ever, years to learn how to win. The first year they all came through they didnt even make the playoffs. The next year they made the playoffs, upset the defending champion, but lost rudely in the next round, the next year they had the best regular season record but lost in the 1st round of the playoffs. The next year they made the Final. It was 1984 before they finally won, when Gretzky, the greatest ever player, won his first Stanley Cup. They won 4 out of the next 5 years until Gretzky was traded because the Oilers owner needed cash.

    That team had some of the greatest hockey players that have ever walked the earth and it still took them 5 years to win. They needed to grow up.

    Cesc is 23. Jack is 18. Samir is 22. Theo is 21. Song is 23. Denilson 22. Ramsey 19. Kos, Djourou and TV are all 25 or under. This team is still growing. They will have growing pains along the way. But to expect a team of youngsters to challenge an experienced and battle-hardened Chelsea side is expecting a lot.

  21. @Paul C. I don’t think Oilers analogy is relevant here. With all due respect with exception of Fabregas I don’t see anybody on current squad to develop into players of Gretzky, Messier, Coffey or Kurri caliber. With the rare collection of talent that Oilers had it was just a matter of time before they turned into the team of champions. This is simply not the case with Arsenal. With just one potentially great player surrounded by solid but role players there is more that time that is needed. Arsenal in their current state look like they will never get beyond perennial also runs. They lack true talent, their tactics are one dimensional and some of the players regressed in the process of adjusting to Arsenal’s style of play (e.g. Arshavin, Rosicky)

  22. May I just disassociate myself from this ‘English grit’ nonsense.How many Englishmen were part of the Invincibles? If we are that ‘spirited’ why don’t we always win the World Cup?
    Sunday was more to do with jet lag rhan anything else – plus the fact that Newcastle played particularly well (but still didn’t create much)’

  23. Sadly after some good performances I blame the defence.
    Fabianski shouldnt have come if we had kept the clean sheet longer I think eventualy we would have sneaked the win.

    Defenders one of them should have moved back on to line as he was comming just incase but they all stood their until after the header had connected before chasing back.

    dissapointing but wednesday is a chance to put it right BUT wolves is a tough place to go and get a result.

  24. The cost of Wenger not signing a GK so far this season (preferring to save additional of profits £1mn instead):

    Liverpool away – 2 points (A GK should save a shot at his near post)

    WB – 3 points (it was a nightmarish performance)

    Newcastle – 2 points (clearly Fabianski’s mistake)

    Total – 7 points… and counting.

    With 7 points in our kitty, we could’ve been 2 points clear on top of the table

    Thanks Mr Wenger for the extraordinary financial prudence and profits.

  25. Sammy, with new goalkeeper, we could have gained extra points…? Errr… Which goalkeeper…? Names…? Please forward your arguments with valid points… Reina was best goalkeeper in the EPL last year… Did you see his fist game…?

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