Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughPressure and the culture at Arsenal - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Pressure and the culture at Arsenal - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Pressure and the culture at Arsenal

“Nowhere to run to baby, nowhere to hide” – Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

 When in the asphyxiating grip of pressure many sportspeople have succumbed and fallen by the wayside. Earlier this month we saw the very public meltdown of Rory McIlroy on the final day of the Masters. Any number of English penalty takers have crumbled and missed at the vital moment over the years.  When millions are watching on television from all corners of the globe there is nowhere to hide. The Vandellas weren’t singing about the effects of pressure but they describe it perfectly and it would be harder to come up with eight words to better sum up Arsenal’s season.

  So many times this year Arsene Wenger’s side have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. At some point it must be acknowledged that it isn’t an aberration but a chronic problem running through the squad. Squandering comfortable leads against Spurs and Newcastle have cost Arsenal crucial points and the lack of nous to see out the game against Liverpool encapsulated the problem in a microcosm. The repeated failures turn a worm of doubt into a torment of mental self-flagellation.

  There are many reasons why Arsenal have stuttered at points this season, some arbitrary, others endemic but two key factors must be addressed in the aftermath of this campaign. Firstly the culture of excuses at the Emirates must be eliminated. Secondly, a culture of winning should be introduced by any means necessary.

  When it comes to excuses Sir Alex Ferguson has done his fair share of ranting against perceived injustices over the years. Even now he’s serving a five game touchline ban for calling into question the fairness of referees. Yet within the Manchester United dressing room there are no such excuses. The referee may have awarded an unfair penalty or disallowed a legitimate goal. Ferguson has no problem making sure that the media knows how he feels but within the United camp, there is nowhere to hide because there can be no excuses for losing. There can never be an excuse. Looking back to the Confederations Cup in 2009, there is a reason that the USA was able to beat Spain but not Brazil. Spain were European champions and felt there was nothing to prove. Brazil will always have something to prove. There is a shared philosophy between Brazil and Manchester United, articulated by Mark Hughes; “We never lose, we just sometimes run out of time.”

  There is a giant question mark hanging over the Arsenal dressing room as to whether the same culture persists. Cesc Fabregas has said that the Arsenal dressing room is a peaceful place and that all the players get on well with each other. On the surface this seems like a positive but when backs are to the wall, sometimes leaders need to deliver a hairdryer. In order to win at the highest level, losing needs to be a total anathema. A calm dressing room is only acceptable when the team is winning, otherwise leaders are deserting their duty and providing excuses for underperformers.

  Secondly, Arsenal need to reintroduce a culture of winning to the dressing room. The cliché about Arsenal lacking mental strength has been trotted out with depressing frequency this season as the media seeks to impose a simple narrative on Arsenal’s season but there is an element of truth to the accusation. Each time that Arsenal fail to close out a game, the self-doubt gets stronger and harder to overcome. Furthermore, Wenger’s body language speaks far louder than his claims about his teams maturity and belief. Each time that the Arsenal players look to the sidelines when things are going against them they see their manager hunched over, visibly stressed. Wenger allows himself to show his frustration in a way that most other managers don’t. Ferguson’s reaction to adversity is to scream at referees and chew harder on his gum. Jose Mourinho is the diametric opposite, chewing the scenery as he throws himself into one overly-dramatic gesture after another. But whereas Mourinho is obviously hamming his part for all it’s worth, with Wenger, the emotions are all too real.  

  When Manchester City signed Patrick Vieira last season, many guffawed at the move saying the midfielder was past his prime and a deadweight on the wage bill. While this is probably true, with Vieira, as with Tevez, Yaya Toure and others came a culture of winning. Manchester City have a number of players who’ve been there and got the medals to show for it. Mancini didn’t sign the former Arsenal midfielder for his playing ability as much as his ability to influence the dressing room. When you walk down the tunnel knowing that you absolutely have to win this game or the entire season will be deemed unsuccessful, that you’ll have to watch hated rivals lift the trophy in front of you, having someone alongside who has seen it all before and come through is of incalculable value.

  Of course Wenger’s team can win the Premier League without this but why make it any harder by removing that experience from the dressing room. Wenger only needs to make one or two additions to the squad this summer but bringing in players who’ve won titles and have proved capable under pressure benefits the entire squad. Wenger might be right that titles can be won without spending grotesque amounts but doing without experience either is doubly difficult.

 It should be stressed that Arsenal are hardly a long way from the title. Wenger has built an attractive side designed around excellent technique and pace. The frustration for fans this season stems from seeing the team make the same mistakes over and over again. Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Wenger is so close to another Premier League crown but certain errors keep cropping up time after time and need to be addressed.



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