In the last couple of seasons I’ve lost count of the number of times people have come up with the statement, “Arsenal don’t have a winning mentality”. I’ve also seen plenty of variations, some say Wenger doesn’t have the winning mentality, another would say Wenger can’t instil the winning mentality into the players, and so on.
Not a single writer who makes these kinds of claims has ever described what ‘winning mentality’ is or why he is better qualified to comment on that rather than Arsene or the Arsenal players. But we do see random connections – X, Y, or Z doesn’t track back ergo he doesn’t have a winning mentality, Arsene has no tactical knowledge hence he doesn’t have a winning mentality, Wenger doesn’t make the right substitutions so he doesn’t have a winning mentality, Wenger doesn’t spend big therefore he doesn’t have a winning mentality – and so it goes. Of course, those are not the exact words, I couldn’t care enough to remember the exact words, but you get the idea.
Most of the times it’s just another way of making the same point, Arsenal haven’t won anything in five years and need to buy big. These writers rarely give any insight into what could improve the winning mentality except buying “big names”. Often in the same argument they criticize Arshavin – our biggest signing and an experienced international – for not having the winning mentality because he doesn’t work hard defensively.
The way I see it, Arsenal won 23 games in the League last year and were in the top 8 in Europe. If Arsenal don’t have a winning mentality what does it say about the 17 other clubs in the premiership? What does it say about all the clubs in the Championship and other lower leagues? Effectively out of the hundreds of professional footballers in England such a statement would imply only two clubs have players and managers with a winning mentality! A similar, somewhat broader, argument can be made about the whole of Europe. Do only 7 clubs in Europe have a winning mentality?
How can anyone be so disrespectful towards professionals who are amongst the best in their field? I could understand if someone like Fergie said Arsene doesn’t have a winning mentality. The Scot is clearly qualified to say that. And for that reason I’d love to hear what he has to say on this topic. The top managers know what it takes and they’ll never disrespect another professional with such meaningless criticism. Some might try that as a mind game but ask them honestly and the answer will always be respectful.
I found this interesting article that discusses the greatness of athletes. Towards the end of that article, there are some comments from Patrick Cohn, a sports psychologist. Cohn identifies four mental characteristics common to champions. Here are the excerpts,
Competitiveness: “This is someone who loves the heat of battle,” Cohn says. “They’re motivated by testing their skills against the next person. Obviously, they love to win and hate to lose. You need that. People might think, ‘Well, isn’t everyone competitive?’ The answer is ‘no.’ The really competitive person digs deeper than the next guy.
Confidence: “Self-confidence is probably the No. 1 mental skill that champion athletes possess,” Cohn says.
Composure: “This one has a couple of connotations,” Cohn says. “The first is: Can you keep it together under pressure at crunchtime? It’s the last minute of the game, and you’re trailing by three: It’s how well you can stay under control emotionally and can perform when you need to.
“The other component is how well you deal with mistakes. Can you stay composed and forget about them? Or do you get upset and frustrated and thrown off your game? Athletes who are composed don’t get rattled and compound one mistake into many.”
Focus: “The idea is to give focus and attention to what’s most important — and, when you do get distracted, to refocus quickly,” Cohn says. “This is the key component to success in sports such as gymnastics and diving, but it’s important in all sports.”
I don’t think we can doubt the competitiveness or confidence of anyone at Arsenal. I’d agree if someone questioned the composure and focus of some of our players. It’s not that we lose our composure or focus all the time, that way we’d have been relegated a long time ago, but there is certainly some room for improvement on that front.
Sometimes our players lose their composure or focus at a key moment. It happens. Still, most of the time we see them regain it quickly and they don’t let mistakes affect their performances that often.
I think on those two parameters Chelsea and perhaps United are better than us, at least Manchester Untied were better than us till last year but this year they’ve slipped from winning positions more often.
Even though I agree Chelsea are marginally better than us in this regard, last season Arsenal lost 15 points from a winning position whereas the Blues lost 16. In contrast, Arsenal won 13 points from a losing position while Chelsea won 15. It’s not a big difference either way and that’s the key point people need to appreciate. The gulf between the two sides, at least on a mental level, is not that big.
It’s easy to criticize when one or two results don’t go the way we’d like them to. Then when the team goes on a long run the same people will either be singing praises or keep away from the debate.
Unfortunately, the internet has given too many writers the power to use big words without really understanding them. I don’t have a problem with criticism. Unless we acknowledge our weaknesses (I like the term area of improvement) we cannot improve. But that doesn’t mean anyone is at liberty to make wild, irrational accusations. That to me is the worst form of loser mentality!