I have been thinking about this ever since our trip to Anfield. In his post match interview after Liverpool, Arsene said,
I believe first of all Liverpool played very well in that period and we played with a handbrake because of our fear. That fear was of not winning the big games because we lost against Chelsea and Manchester United. You could see that we brought that into the game. Once we had nothing to lose in the second half we controlled the game
In itself, this statement would not mean much. But I have felt a sense of hesitancy about our play in almost all the away games so far. Even after the Sunderland game Le Boss had said,
I believe that going forward especially we lacked sharpness and desire to go behind the defenders. We had chosen the easy part of the game, that is always come to the ball and not to be exposed then with our pace in behind. In football, if you want to score goals, you have to go behind the defenders
It’s not perfectly clear what Wenger is trying to say here. My understanding is that he is saying we had played it safe by staying more in the central third in stead of taking the game to the opposition third. We came to take the ball and did not make runs behind their defense as there is a risk of exposing our defense if we are adventurous. If we look at the guardian chalkboards for Rosicky and Nasri in that game, as I had done in the detailed analysis, it looks like an accurate observation.
After the Liverpool game Arsene also said something like, if we had gone two behind before half time the game would have been over. I can’t find the exact statement but it was certainly a surprise to hear Le Boss speak of not having a hope if the opposition went two up.
I do wonder if this team has lost the confidence that we can actually dominate and win big games. Against United and Chelsea, we have only two or three wins in the last four years. We haven’t scored more than two against these sides for a long, long time now. Our losses on the other hand are double in number and we have been thrashed on occasions. There are times when it seems we have played these teams off the park but that is more because we have dominated the central areas and kept possession rather than creating multiple chances and scoring a ton of goals.
Then there are defeats like the ones at Citeh when we tried to take the game to the final third and left ourselves exposed. The Manchester Blues had enough quality to hit us hard every time they got a break.
How many times have we seen the opposition get one or two chances in the whole game and still go away with a point or even a win? At times, these chances come from set pieces while other occasions are mostly counter attacks based on a long ball. Even the set pieces are often a result of a fast break.
If someone can find the stats for conceding on counter attacks, we might just be on top. Part of that is down to the fact that we normally control the ball and the opposition can only rely on fast breaks. But there can be no denying the fact that we are not as good at stopping counter attacks as the other top sides are.
We have a number of youngsters in the squad and they have grown up together over the last few years. In these years, we have lost most of the big matches against the top sides. Can anyone deny the psychological impact of these defeats on the team? Mental strength is a big part of professional sport these days, but isn’t it natural to feel a negative and sapping sense of déjà vu if things don’t go our way in a big game?
We never looked like we could come back against United in the Champions League last season. We didn’t look like we had the energy against Chelsea either. We can still keep ball for most parts but the opposition will always be happy to let us have it when they can see that we are lacking the cutting edge.
I am not trying to say that we will never win or we are not good enough. I am not criticizing the players or the manager either. The point here is to identify an issue that could be holding us back. If so, it is imperative that we get right to the root of it and find some solutions.
A couple of big wins will certainly help, but until that happens we run the risk of being caught in a negative spiral. This could then extend to all away matches as well. Something, I feel, we are seeing at the moment when we aren’t taking the game to teams like Burnley.
What do you think, can fear cost us the title?