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!