Are Arsenal’s Problems Against Chelsea And United Predominantly Psychological?

If we show the cold hard fact P9 W0 D1 L8 to someone who doesn’t follow the Premiership and tell him this is one team’s results against two others, he would be justified in assuming the team in question is just not good enough to compete with the other two.

As Arsenal fans we have seen our team struggle against the top two over this nine game period which includes humiliating defeats and gut wrenching performances. Some of the fans and most of the people in the media believe that there is a huge gap between us an them. Even if I leave out the extremists who think Arsenal are no-hopers, there are plenty of genuine fans out there who do wonder if we are in the same league and if we have what it takes to be champions.

Beyond this point most of the discussion tends to be subjective. Some blame our defending, some blame our lack of strikers, there are questions about maturity, physicality, tactics, individual abilities and so on. None of this is really incorrect but it gets increasingly tough to get a clear and comprehensive picture.

If we consider the top 3 mini table, Chelsea have won 3 out of 3, United have 2 our of 3 and Arsenal have lost 4 out of 4. If we subtract this from the league table, Chelsea would be 49 points from 23 games, United 51 from 23 and Arsenal would be leading with 52 from 22!

In other words our performance against the other 17 clubs is better. This analysis leads me to believe that we cannot be all that bad after all. If we had genuine physical, tactical or individual deficiencies strong enough to explain our abysmal record against the top two, it should also reflect in the results against the other clubs. I mean if they are so much better than us how can they not be doing much better against the other teams?

This data isn’t limited to a handful of games either. It covers 22 games and all kinds of opponents including physical, defensive, and tactical teams.

I see this data and I think of how Wenger keeps talking about how good the team is, how we are close and how there are positives even in big defeats. It does make a lot of sense.

My mind goes back to the recent defeats where we saw many individual errors. Errors by people like Vermaelen and Song who are proven professionals. Against United Arshavin missed his chances and they took theirs. Even towards the end we had a lot of pressure and could have scored while they could have scored on the counter. Against Chelsea we didn’t create many chances but neither did they. Once again the difference was made by the team that was clinical enough.

Since we have scored almost the same number of goals (and had scored the same last year as well) neither of these teams can be said to be distinctly superior to us in finishing. Why then are they having the upper hand in our encounters?

I think the big difference is psychological. Our best players make fatal defensive errors and also miss out in front of goal against these teams because of some or the other mindset issue. I can’t think of any other reason.

It is certainly not about quality as the expert fans would have us believe. That is a lame opinion spouted by people with limited understanding based on over simplified thinking.

I don’t know the exact problem. It could be that the players are trying too hard to win, it could be that they are over focused on scoring, early goals conceded could also generate a negative deja vu type feeling, and it might easily be a combination of various mental issues.

Right now it seems like a riddle Wenger has to unlock. Arsenal are there, they are good enough, they just have to get it right in the big games.

This situation reminds of me of an Indian mythological character (and one of the Gods to many) called Hanuman. When as a child he frustrated the sages using his powers to create mischief, they cursed him so that he would forget his powers and would only remember them when someone reminds him. A long time later at an opportune moment Jambavant, one of the oldest soldiers in Shri Ram’s army, reminds him of his powers and they prove to be invaluable in that victory of Good over Evil.

In the modern day if we are to see Good win over Evil someone has to remind our players about the powers they possess!

21 Responses to Are Arsenal’s Problems Against Chelsea And United Predominantly Psychological?

  1. Reyhan says:

    I think you’re right on the money. On paper our best 11 can match their best 11s, but our 2nd and 3rd choice players severely lack that confidence. Wenger is right when he says that fear/nervousness spreads throughout the team. I believe Denilson has his qualities but he pissed his pants at Old Trafford, which subsequently spread through the whole team. Chelsea we played much better, but Drogba made the difference with his finishing. Imagine if they didn’t have Drogba and we had Van Persie.

  2. oz_gooner says:

    Its not just psychological.. Its tactical blunders by Wenger that has made this happen..

    We are very efficient and stronger with the rest of the teams as u quite rightly pointed out but our type of football is a very attacking style and it only works best with the teams lower than fourth position on the table.

    Why? Because teams like chelski, Mancs & city have very strong and talented forwards who make u pay when a counter attack is on.

    Bolton recently was a classic example of this. In the last 15-20 min of play bolton had a chance to at least level the score line but their attackers aren’t of the ability of drogba, tevez, adebayor, rooney
    and didnt make us pay for our lack of concentration in the back.

    Mr Wenger is responsible for this i believe.. We dont truly have a Marshall of the troops in the backline to hold the fort and why?

    Gallas is the most experienced defender out there but in the last 2 years or so he has been too keen to score goals, when his main priority should be to guard the backline and hold his players.

    Sure Gallas u can do that when we play bolton, wolves and Wigan.

    And why hasnt Wenger recognised this ?? We have 2 guys in the back , Vermalen and Gallas who between them have scored more goals than any other 2 central defenders in the league.. 11 goals between them actually.

    Gallas is too goal hungry i believe and its hurting the team.

    Does this make some sense ?

    • desigunner says:

      None of your observations are incorrect. These are indeed valid but I was wondering if these are the problems or symptoms.

      For instance if Bolton, Wigan etc are not good enough why would Chelsea lose to Wigan? If Chelsea and United have far better defense and better attack than us, then they should have far superior results isn’t that only logical?

      I can understand if someone says we are good enough to beat the smaller teams. But if we are then so should the top two. That’s what makes me wonder if at the root of our problems there is something more than just tactics and individual issues.

      • oz_gooner says:

        Yes Celsea lose the games they least expect because they let their guard down.

        When they play arsenal or man u they play with a whole different mind set.

        And yes psychological has something to do with it just like u said. But… When tactically u let down your team by being too over anxious to score and your down 2 – 0 after the first 28 min like against chelsea, then what do u expect ?

        As if it wasnt hard enough at 1- 0 the team didnt learn from its first mistake and that was to be more defensively minded.

  3. oz_gooner says:

    Anyway good article desi.. Your dead right when u said are were trying too hard to score.. and we are paying for it by not applying the fundamental tactics you would normally use with strong teams.

    That is be attacking, but wait for the right opportunities when they come.. Not all just move into the front half in desperation.. Thats purely schoolboy tactics and a very irresponsible.

  4. heffy says:

    yeah, i think we prob need a defender who knows nothing else but defending. like campbell in his prime. right now, even our defensive players wouldn’t look out of place in the final third. and it doesn’t help that our attackers and midfielders aren’t all that great in defense. if wenger wants to use this total football concept, where all can attack, all must be able to defend too.

  5. Damien says:

    It is. It is purely psychological. Man Utd and Chelsea’s mere presence intimidates Arsenal.

    The pressure of not winning a trophy in 4 years increases as well.

    This Arsenal squad, a few years ago would have no pressure on them when they played against United and Chelsea and put up an infinitely better performance. Granted, we lost to Chelsea, but that was down to inexperience. But it just illustrates that Arsenal’s players are intimidated by Chelsea and Man Utd.

    Arsenal played Chelsea at a very trying time, coming off a demoralising defeat to Man Utd a few days earlier, which put added pressure on them too.

    But, ultimately, I blame the fans of Arsenal. They are putting way too much unnecessary pressure on the team. They cant relax and their confidence gets shot down.

    There needs to be undivided support, not senseless criticism.

    We are too filled with reactionary fans. I dont blame the fans getting frustrated by no silverware in 4 years. We have waited, for the most part patiently. But its gotten to the stage where any mistake is criticised.

    There were so called fans criticising Wenger for having played Bendtner, saying hes not good enough. The same players criticise Wenger for not starting him against Chelsea.

    Ive read fans complaining that Wenger started Walcott against Ashley Cole. Not realising that Walcott’s mere presence kept Cole in his own half for most of the game. Yet, the same fans criticise Walcott for not playing enough games.

    We have come to the point of our fans criticising the team just for the sake of criticising. Its unnecessary.

    No team in the country, and Id wager in Europe have fans as fickle, disrespectful and demanding as Arsenal have.

    Its disgusting.

    • desigunner says:

      I agree with you to an extent that a lot of criticism is unjustified. However fans have their own feelings and we can’t question that.

      The important question is whether the fans actually read this criticism from fans? I doubt it but they must surely be reading the criticism in the media which could hurt a lot.

      Large parts of the press are anti-Arsenal and in that sense perhaps the fans should do more to support the team instead of towing the media line which is mostly harsh and unjustified.

  6. Robespierre says:

    Desi ,nice try ,but wrong. sure confidence is important but that is not the key here; We were lucky that it was N’gog that made Willie look so good since if it was Torres most likely we would have seen a jaw dropping third goal in as many games where a top forward on the counter tears us apart again while our mispositioned defenders are unable to do anything about it. Any top team in europe can do the same, and will do the same against us. That in the last 10 minutes we could not keep ball and were huffing and hoofing all over the place says quite a bit about our much vaunted passing ability under pressure.
    It is not a confidence issue primarily, but tactics and quality of the squad .If Arsene would have been more realistic and humble he would have positioned the team in more traditional defensive formation good enough for a draw at least,when facing the super teams; but no,he went with the 4-3-3 , a brilliant system that at the moment we do NOT own and have no right to play. I wonder how many fans here watch Barca , just as a learning experience, Look what Barca is doing right and you will see what we are doing wrong,(Oz Gooner mentioned a couple) and even they had extremely hard time subduing the blues with that system. Both our top 2 teams played against Barca same as against us,relinquishing possession and countering, Barca’s personal and tactical discipline is much better equipped then us at the moment to benefit from the offensive edge it gives while minimizing risk in defense. One can analyse the difference quite precisely, and you have in fact done so, a little bit, in a blog little while ago. At the moment we lack some key ingredients, which you cannot simply patch up ad hoc which is what Wenger is doing.

    • desigunner says:

      I can see your point about N’Gog. However if you look at the goals by Drogba, he didn’t really need to be a top quality striker to score. We kind of surrendered. If Drogba had scored by out-muscling our players then I would accept the point. Even at the Emirates he got a tap in and at the Bridge he was left free. These are mistakes we don’t make against other teams otherwise we would not be where we are in the league. So the question is, why do we make these mistakes against these teams? That leads me to think that its in the mind.

  7. Lebenglese says:

    Some quality analysis on this site, I really like your take on things. Always an interesting read.


  8. gooner4life says:

    I like your analyst on the mini-top 3 table and points from the league. From this perspective, it certainly shows we’re able to play much more consistently against the rest of the league compared to Chelski and the Mancs. I only hope the team can pick themselves up and finish the season strong. C’mon you Gunners!! We have to back our team through and through.

  9. Ole Gunner says:

    The problem is kneejerkism. You’re one of the more rational analysts of the Arsenal and even you have been guilty of kneejerkism.

    The truth is that every season, one team or other ends up with a terrible record against the “Top 4”.

    In the larger scheme of things, you can say it matters. If we have problems beating them, we’ll have problems winning trophies; namely the cup competitions. FA Cup, Champions League…

    For the league, it does not matter one bit.

    Before Man United beat us, they were the team struggling in games against the Top 4.

    • desigunner says:

      I agree there is a lot of kneejerkism and plead guilty myself. But isn’t that a problem with the fans?

      What we are trying to discuss is the cause that prevents the team from performing as well as they can. Some of the explanations by fans are knee-jerk, especially the ones that say our players are hopeless. But the question remains.

      I am not sure our record is comparable to that of United last year because even when they lost most games were highly competitive. In our case we look far more vulnerable.

      First question is should we just ignore these results as just one of those things or is there more to it? To me, there is more to it – I wouldn’t say that if we lost 10 games but all were close.

  10. oz_gooner says:

    Robespierre… I couldn’t of put it better myself..

    And sorry damien, but to say that the arsenal supporters should be at least partly held responsible for the team being put under pressure is utter nonsense.

    Thats like pretending arsene wenger looks over these blogs looking for the supporters view on game strategy and tactics.. lol

    • desigunner says:

      I think the supporters can do better in countering the media efforts to put pressure on Arsene and the players. At times I feel some supporters are purely guided by media opinion and there can be a valid point against them. After all, some of it must have an effect on the atmosphere at the stadium and consequently on the players.

  11. oz_gooner says:

    I just want to add one more thing about a formation we used against the mancs late 2008.

    At the emirates stadium it was.. Mr Wenger applied a formation we dont often use and it damn well worked..

    It has a more defensive feel to it but has attacking capability because it offers better back-up in defense if the need arises due to a counter attack.

    We won this game quite convincingly even the score line of 2-1 doesnt really back it up.

    V.persie wasnt playing due to injury as well.. we had Bentner alone at the front and it seemed to create problems for man u.

    The formation was ;

    4 – 2 – 3 – 1

  12. oz_gooner says:


    Sagna Gallas Silvestre Clichy

    Denilson Diaby

    Walcott Fabregas Nasri


    Substitutes: Fabianski, Toure, Song, Vela, Ramsey, Djorou, Wilshere

  13. Hong_gunner says:

    Its just a temporary phase that will pass. And as someone pointed out, desperation amongst the fans doesnt help it one bit. Yes, we’ve had a trophy drought for 4 years, but if you ask your dad, the great Arsenal had lengthy periods in 12s and 13s of years where trophy was nothing more than a mirage. We’re in that phase where the team tries to establish itself to be known as the mighty Arsenal even when the our grand-kids will be watching the beautiful game. And yes, wenger is to blame. He is the one who has spoilt the fans. He’s the one who has kept the arsenal in europe even in our ‘dire times'(or as called by a mere trophy craving fans). Lets get behind the team. Our own eyes have seen how good this team is throughout the season, bar a few battle of nerves where we unfortunately were doomed against more clinical men, nothing more. Once the team gets into the groove, i support this team to catch this season by the neck and still win it. Lets make emirates somewhere for players to make a pride of arsenal.

  14. bobbygee says:

    You are right Arthur Ash wrote a book called Levels of a Game. I think it is out of print. The book addressed the how two players of championship ability are separated by the psychological factors. The person stronger mentally will be the champ.
    Good points. Yet we had chances to turn the match on a dime and just missed it by that much. This happens in sports all the time. God gives the power to be champions. God gets all the glory. Championships are won on the road and beating the teams you are supposed to.

  15. nikkogunners says:

    OZ-gooner, yor analysis is spot on. A Manc fan tells me that everytime our team is week due to injuries and we do not seem to have our top class players we surprise all and sundry by winning this fixtures. I think it comes down to mind games and surprising formations including changing the playing unit. AW seeem abit week on mind game execution and the lessons must be taken. I still think we need to experiment with strenthening our DM role by trying out Vermaleen in that role together with Song. It will form the solid first line of defence. We can reshuffle the back. I think it makes perfect sense to return Arshavin to his left role and move say Diaby or Rosisky into the cetral attack role.Diaby has aerial capabilities and an eye for the net while Rosisky is a hard fighter. This reshuffle will see Bentner, Fab and Arshavin become huge threats like never before and The defence become more absorbent of attacks. Vermerleen can even provide an extra punch in attack. We have time right now till wednesday. i think it’s time this out of the box thinking was taken to the training ground. I imagine our bluntness agaist Barca’s and the Milans of this world if we can’t cut it against the top teams in Europe. Any one with the direct line?

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