Will Fear Cost Arsenal The Title?

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?

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20 Responses to Will Fear Cost Arsenal The Title?

  1. John Muhindo says:

    Fear may not cost us title but winning it because you become carefull in handling the oponent and that is what players are doing.

  2. ozed says:

    This has always been my view.this team is good enough but just need self belief.we managed to make chelsea look ten feet tall but man city still ate them up.

  3. Tee Song says:

    I think it’s just part of the maturation process of any championship team. Sometimes that last step from good to great is the hardest one to take. Chelsea and Man U have been top dogs in the Prem for the last several years while Arsenal, having completely rebuilt since the Invincibles, are the young up and comers. It simply takes time to mature and develop the ultimate confidence and belief that you are truly better than the current champs.

    Having followed the NBA for quite a few years, I remember that before Micheal Jordan and the Bulls won their first of many titles, they were ousted from the playoffs by then current champs, the Detroit Pistons, three years running. Finally, on their fourth try, they made the breakthrough and beat them on the way to their first title. It simply took that long to grow together as a team, both in terms of their individual and collective skills and in their mental toughness.

    I think Arsenal are on the cusp of being a championship caliber team. Will they make that breakthrough this year, next year or the year after? I don’t know. My gut feeling is that they’re still a defensive player or two away and that they haven’t developed that mental toughness yet. I’d love to be proven wrong but that step from thinking you can do it to KNOWING you can do it is huge. Let’s face it, some highly talented teams NEVER make that breakthrough. This Arsenal team is hugely talented but none of them have won at the highest levels of the game yet and it’s a difficult and sometimes long learning process. Regardless, it’ll be an exciting ride.

  4. Wreckedsoul says:

    I have been thinking that consistency is never in our boys mind. i do agree with you that our confidence level is quite depressing. When we look at Liverpool game, you’ll understand what i’m trying to say. we kept passing the ball without any intention to break the defence it simply coz we don’t have the courage to do just that, like you said play safe. Drogba needed 1 shooting chance and he got his goal, whilst Arsenal kept passing the ball up front with no clinical shot counted. Sometimes we only need 1 just shot and that’s it. Other people say Drogba’s quality made the difference but i say lack of courage determine the result. One more thing, we do need to bolster our CM coz Song is too weak to guard the centre park alone. We are too soft in repelling counterattack from any of our opponent especially those teams with skillful passes. Song often takes their legs rather than the ball; the result is free kick.

    No more grip in the centre and up front. Previous seasons we’d been worried by our defence but this season, it’s in the middle of the park

  5. Cape Gooner says:

    Will we lose the title because of negative psychological factors? Perhaps. “Fear” implies a conservatism based on giving more weight to the negatives of doing something wrong than the positives of doing something well.

    Chelsea is a team that plays the percentages. Great players mean that a conservative approach wins them the game most of the time. However, their owner wants more for his 700 million quid.

    Arsenal is a team that plays attractive, aggressive football. Sure that leaves us open to the counter attack. Sure it means that attacks will break down when the defence splitting pass is intercepted, or the pass is into a big empty space when your team mate does not make the run you anticipated.

    Somehow you need to get the balance right. We got it wrong at Man City. Or did we? At 1 – 1 we looked clear favourites. So they hit us on the break! That happens sometimes. More often against the better teams. But once we do not play the percentage style, we will not win often enough playing with the handbrake on. And we won’t win a game of the percentages with Chelsea because they have better players than we do. However, we have a better team.

    Currently we have two problems, one AW will solve, the other he won’t. The first is the amount of time it is taking for players to get back their form after injury. Eduardo and Walcott are prime examples. The unsolvable problem is the dreadful bias we suffer from referees. Look at the penalties we conceded against Hull and West Ham, and compare that to the penalties and red cards Burnley failed to concede against us. We should have been 3 – 0 up after 15 minutes, playing against 9 men! When you say “we aren’t taking the game to teams like Burnley” isn’t it bit like saying “well apart from that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

    • desigunner says:

      Against Citeh we looked favorites at 1-1, against Chelsea for 40 minutes, Against Utd after the first half. But it didn’t happen for us. It’s the big games where we are affected the most. Smaller teams always make more mistakes. Agree about the percentage game. (I have a feeling Abramovic will give an arm and a leg to find someone like Arsene)

      I am not sure about the Referee angle. Gallas could have been sent off for the foul on Gerrard, if we are saying a Burnley player should have been sent off. We would really struggle if Gallas was out of three games. I think ref decisions make a small difference but we should have enough to take on Burnley regardless. Just my point of view.

      • Cape Gooner says:

        Desi, there is no comparison between the Burnley incidents and the Gallas incident. Both Burnley incidents fall into the “last defender, denied a goal scoring opportunity” bracket. Cesc was in the process of shooting when elbowed in the back, Nasri was one on one with the goalkeeper when the defender grabbed his arm. Gallas committed a foul, but did not deny a goal scoring opportunity.

        “we should have enough to take on Burnley regardless”. We didn’t have enough to beat Hull more that 3 – 0 and that was at home, and Hull aren’t as good as Burnley. It really makes no sense to say things like “yes, we had x good goals disallowed, but we still should have scored more”. That implies that when we win 2 – 0 we stopped trying towards the end.

        The balance between attack and defense is what AW is referring to when he talks about fear. Fear leads to too much defense. Playing with the handbrake on means playing too defensively. AW is not all out attack. We have our front two wide players tracking back. Barcelona don’t. Messi and Henry don’t track back. I would love to see opponents attacking while AA, Edu and Theo are positioned on the halfway line. Most teams will leave five defenders back for that threat.

      • desigunner says:

        Your last paragraph is exactly what my point is all about. Why don’t we leave our wide men free to attack? I didn’t write about Barcelona as the comparison irks many people.

        Burnley were able to throw 7-8 men in our half to attack and constantly had 3-4 pressing us in our half. Given how slow their defense is, the only reason we didn’t get behind is because our wide men came back.

        Ultimately, it’s about balance. I am not denying that. But right now I feel we are afraid to tilt the balance towards offense. It might be a result of multiple factors.

        I also appreciate your Lincoln analogy. But the fact remains that we had around an hour to play knowing that we were not winning.

        Regardless of what happened before that, we should have enough in the tank to change that result. It has no comparison to being 2-0 up. Once a team is up by two goals they can safely drop a gear or two.

        The point is we couldn’t get behind Burnely because our fear stopped us from being adventurous. We prevented them from creating much but we didn’t create anything either.

      • Cape Gooner says:

        “The point is we couldn’t get behind Burnely because our fear stopped us from being adventurous.”

        We did play Gallas as centre forward for the last ten minutes, which does somewhat negate your point. However, we agree on the style we would like AW to adopt. Playing Eboue in an attacking position indicates this will not happen.

        The failure to adopt this style is down to AW, not the players. When he talks of “fear” and “handbrake”, I have always assumed that he is referring to the player’s performance, not to the tactics he has told them to adopt.

      • desigunner says:

        I am not sure that an extremely fluid team would be told where they should or should not be. AW wants them to press higher up, that has been said many times. At times we can see the players put in a conscious effort to do that. But they are intelligent players and if the opposition does well they will get back to defend and not stick to a position in a rigid way.

        I have a feeling we are being pushed back more than we should. It is difficult to find the starting point of this. I am convinced we don’t start games with the thought that our wide players will be sitting back. But if the opposition starts getting behind the full back or our passing game doesn’t work as well, we tend to drop back. I think its a dynamic thing and not directly down to AW or any individual player. That is the reason I linked it with Fear. We err on the side of caution.

  6. hmm... says:

    spot on….that was the thing i was trying to say…..fear the main reason we lost title after being 5 points up in 2008….it will be deciding factor against villa….ars pace is no match to theirs and once they go 1-0 up their will be no way back, and certainly they are playing without fear..

  7. 0.9 Calibre says:

    Considering how young this team is I personally opine that fear isn’t a factor at all.. The mind of these youngsters haven’t been influenced enough for them to feel fear.. they are more open and considering the backing they have received from the boss I think they have more of an open mind to learn from every setback.. for me it has to be the game we play itself.. its beautiful.. but sometimes its superfluous. We seem to play with the “handbrake” in the final third cos probably that’s how we train.. we just don’t take a shot.. we try and pass into the net.. The old ones have obviously realized this.. you can see Cesc and arshavin taking more shots in the final third.. But the problem is that our possession is highly distributed and the maxima of possession in such a distribution lies with Cesc who is deep half the time pulling the strings.. Its simple, when the opposition plays a 9 man defense they all try to guard the final third and more importantly the box.. long range strikes are the best way to beat such a tactic.. trying to pass your way through a packed defense wont work most of the time cos no one has the space to move with the ball.. the play becomes more static and hence ineffective.. So all we need is to let a few rip from distance and we’ll be fine.. Teams in the EPL have adopted to (effective) tactics against us.. 1) Physical game 2) a 9 man defense.. The 2 possible solutions are 1) Set piece improvement and 2) Long range strikes or more shots in general, respectively,

    • desigunner says:

      Agree that teams put men behind in numbers. We tend to send a lot of crosses into the box. Why don’t we push men into the box as well? How many times have we seen only one Arsenal player or worse, none, in the opposition box even when we are chasing the game.

      Agree about shooting from distance and set piece improvement in general.

  8. Hong_gunner says:

    Let the teams fear us when they tackle us in the final third. Denilson has sown that seed into Hull’s heart with a sublime freekick. We need to do a bit more of that. 10-15 more goals from set-pieces for the remainder of the season will win us the league.

  9. Ole Gunner says:

    I’m quite sureI dont think we concede many goals from counter attacks.

    So far, I remember just 2 this season.

  10. bobbygee says:

    Players take on the managers personality. If he shows fear the players will show fear. Barca for example could have given up in the death fight with Estudiantes. The Catalans didn’t and scored to tie it and then Messi scored the winner. If a team plays not to lose they will lose. I would rather go down fighting playing balls to the wall than sitting back and not attacking.
    Still all in all The Gunners are in a good spot to win the title. Both Man U and Chelsea are stinking the joint out. The opportunity is there all you have to is grab it.
    http://bobbygee.wordpress.com/

  11. […] Will Fear Cost Arsenal The Title? I have been thinking about this ever since our trip to Anfield. In his post match interview after Liverpool, Arsene […] […]

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