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Arsenal’s biggest battle this season is with themselves

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In the last two weeks, the hacks (supporters and critics) talking about Arsenal have totally missed the point.

It is respectable, IMO, to stick to your guns and method of playing the game even when it’s not always working out. So for Arsenal to insist on sticking to Plan A, even if their ‘champagne football’ is without any goals, is the the right thing to do.

Yes, the team must support the players, even if the team is playing poorly. You stick together through thick and thin, and Henry is right to ask the supporters for their loyalty.

And yes, Arsenal’s performances (just like those of United’s or Liverpool’s) are often over-analysed, to the extent that people sometimes forget that these players are flesh and blood like the rest of us, not robots.

But in all this, no one’s said the obvious, maybe because the people too close to the club don’t want to believe it (or are fighting too hard against it) or because it’s too soon to tell.

I said this here on Soccerlens at the start of the season, and I’ll say it again:

  • The biggest battle Arsenal will fight this year will be with themselves, not Chelsea or United or in the Champions League.
  • That battle won’t be fought on the pitch, but in the dressing rooms, in training, in the players’ minds, in team meetings, in Wenger’s relationship with the squad and in Henry’s relationship with the club.
  • The team is young, needs more time together and needs to adapt. Adebayour and Baptista provide Wenger with a more physical alternative, but that doesn’t absolve the rest of the team from their responsibility to score.

Right now, Arsenal are playing like the Cristiano Ronaldo of two years ago – a whole lotta tricks, but little end product.

The comparison is harsh, but not necessarily damning. Arsenal need time to improve, they need time to adapt to their new style of playing. The team needs to grow together, just like Rooney-Ronaldo-Saha-Giggs have at United.

The problem is, right now, there’s way too much pressure being put on Arsenal – it’s the same pressure as last season, when no one realised that the team was not strong enough to be anything better than 3rd, and a blip in form meant that they barely managed 4th place.

This year, barring major dips in form for the top two, Arsenal are still looking at 3rd spot. They will need a breakthrough year like United had last year – dealing with poor form, poor morale and turning it around into a long run of wins that gave us the belief that we could genuinely challenge for the title next season.

If anyone can make it happen for Arsenal, its Wenger. But while he protects the team from the criticism shunted towards him, and while Henry works hard to draw attention away from the younger stars, you start to wonder what could go wrong here.

Will Walcott be protected for too long, when his drive and talents could offer Arsenal a more direct attacking option?

Will Henry stand up to the immense pressure on him and perform as well as he wants to?

Will Arsenal adapt their game and become more effective without compromising on their ‘pretty football’?

Will fans realise that because of injuries, new players and recent transfers, Arsenal need more time than just a few games to fix their act?

Only time will tell. But right now, there’s no point in fixating on Arsenal’s errors – they will adapt and evolve, and they will, for their own sake, be better at the end of it.

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Ahmed Bilal created Sportslens in 2006. He is a business consultant and entrepreneur who helps businesses identify and overcome their biggest challenges. He’s also the founder of Football Media, an online advertising agency that specialises in sports and male audience targeting, with a monthly reach of 100m+ sports fans in the UK and US. He’s also the previous owner of Soccerlens.com – a sports news site that reaches 3m+ readers / month.