The odds are that unless something unexpected happens, Arsenal fans can probably consign their title hopes to the bin for another season. In a campaign that has seen them concede a total of 17 goals when visiting their three main title rivals, it’s probably time to realise that some lessons need to be learnt.
Arsene Wenger is often portrayed as a man fixed in his principles, and not easily swayed from what he believes in. Sometimes that can be an admirable quality, at others it can fly in the face of all logic. With that in mind, here are my six lessons the Gunners must learn.
1 – The first fifteen minutes of a game is not just a warm up
Inside the first quarter of an hour, the away games to both Liverpool and Chelsea had been lost. Coaches often tell teams to be solid and make sure they are still in the game with fifteen to go. Especially in big games, Arsenal need to ensure they have a solid start. Losing a goal inside that first fifteen is never good. Losing three is bordering on the calamitous.
2 – Don’t get mugged
When the Gunners played at Anfield, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had clearly briefed his team to press the Arsenal players in possession early and high. The tactic resulted in possession being regained so often early on that the Reds could have been five or six goals clear inside the first twenty minutes. Securing possession is vital. Carelessly conceding it costs.
3 – Recognise the errors and address them
The Liverpool thrashing offered a template of how to hustle Arsenal out of their stride. It was a lesson harshly dished out by Liverpool. Wenger however didn’t take heed of it. It appears that Jose Mourinho did. He deployed his forces in precisely the same way, and reaped the same rewards.
4 – Losing an early goal is not the end of the game
Everybody concedes early goals from time to time. These things happen. The difference between a good team and a winning team is that the former flatters whilst the latter battles. Having received the wake up call of conceding an early goal, wake up! Staying in snooze control invites the inevitable second. Sound familiar?
5 – Every team needs a Plan B
Predicting the way that an Arsenal team will play is probably not that difficult. As mentioned above, Arsene Wenger has a way of playing, and ethos of how it should be done. It’s commendable, but also predictable. Sometimes the Gunners need to eschew flair for solidarity. Be boring for a change, dig out results exactly as you did against Spurs. Anyone can win when they play well. Securing the three points when that isn’t the case is the key to winning titles.
6 – Remember ‘bottle’ isn’t just the receptacle for isotonic drinks
The likes of Patrick Vieira, Tony Adams and a few other stalwarts of the past must cringe each time they see their team fold under pressure. Yes, there are a few stout hearts in the team. Mertesacker and Flamini clearly are two, but there seems a lot more who are less prepared to step up to the plate when the pressure is on. Flair players are exceptional and entertaining. Flair players with ‘bottle’ win things.
Arsene Wenger has been an exceptional manager over the years, but truth be told, he hasn’t won a trophy for more years than the Gooners would like to remember. The FA Cup is clearly within his reach this year, but unless something happens to change the fate of his team in the big games, an occasional cup triumph could be all that is on offer under the Frenchman.
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