Since Arsenal's calamitous second-half capitulation at Newcastle, the last few days have felt like walking around with the worst sort of hangover. The kind that gives you flashbacks to the whatever appalling antics you were up to in your stupor and leaves you questioning: did that really happen?
Well, it did and it is still hard to believe. A family member texted me after the game to ask how on earth the Gunners could allow a four-nil half-time lead to be canceled out? The only response I could offer was “gross incompetence and lack of bottle?”
Turning Point: Diaby Asks To Get Sent Off©Getty Images
Certainly, the referee didn’t help matters - both penalties were ridiculously soft - and yes, for the larger portion of the second half the Gunners were reduced to ten-men thanks to Abou Diaby stupidly getting himself sent off. Added to this, they had also lost Johan Djourou, their most influential central defender, to a knock. But none of these are adequate excuses for what happened.
It would be nice to be able to dismiss the performance as a “freak event” but we have been here a couple of times before this season. Added to Saturday’s debacle are the draw away at Wigan and, most notably, the defeat to Spurs at home. On all three occasions the Gunners were in winning positions and when required to see the job through they failed to hold their nerve. It is a worrying aspect of this team.
On the whole they seem to have toughened-up mentally this season, but the fact that they are still prone to occasional lapses and, indeed, collapses is troubling and does raise the question as to whether this flaw in their psychological strength will mean they ultimately fail to truly fulfill their undoubted potential. Let’s face it, sitting in the stands most weeks, you never feel entirely confident that they have matches won until they are either three goals ahead or the final whistle sounds.
After the match, Arsene Wenger conceded that, when the match went to 1-4, the team “panicked”. Really? Why? Considering that Joey Barton didn’t convert his first penalty until the 68th minute, that is a pretty shocking admission. Leading 4-1 with 22 minutes to go, you might have expected the Newcastle goal to sharpen Arsenal’s focus for the closing stages but, in actual fact, they did more than panic. They totally went to pieces. The only player to emerge from the second half with any real credit was Wojciech Szczesny who had little chance with the goals but pulled off several good saves to ensure that Arsenal’s embarrassment was restricted to drawing the match rather than losing it.
The team’s second half display defies analysis beyond that which I offered in my text response above. However, the one thing that manager, players and supporters are all agreed on is the need to move on from this as quickly as possible. In the longer term, it is for Arsene Wenger to sort out the psychological glitches in the team’s make up. In the shorter term, the players have to get back to winning ways immediately.
On Saturday, Wolves visit Ashburton Grove. Mick McCarthy’s men will be in buoyant mood after ending Manchester United’s unbeaten run last Saturday and they are a team that have proved they can dish out a bloody nose to the big boys when they want to, having also scalped Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City this season.
Though Arsenal won 2-0 at Molineux back in November, it was hardly a cakewalk; and Wolves are not going to be a pushover in the return either. With the Gunners sweating on injuries to two of their more-physical players - Alex Song and Johan Djourou - Saturday will is going to be a very big test.
For once, this week’s international break might actually be a welcome interruption to the real business of the Premier League. For many of the Arsenal players it will be a good distraction from Saturday’s meltdown and will stop them from dwelling too much on what happened. It will also direct the media’s attention elsewhere - the last thing the team needed was a slow news week. Fingers crossed, those who have gone away with their national sides will come back injury-free and those who have swung the lead and cried off with “flu” will have a good rest.
Everyone needs to return mentally fresh and ready to deliver a very big performance against Wolves on Saturday.
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