x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fire missing at the heart of Arsenal

Arsenal have shown great mental fragility especially in defeat at Stamford Bridge against their London rivals Chelsea, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

Arsenal players did not seem to have the belief that they could come away with a draw at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Eddie Keogh / Reuters
Arsenal players did not seem to have the belief that they could come away with a draw at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Eddie Keogh / Reuters

Pressure does funny things to teams and to players. In the golfer Jean Van De Velde's case it meant standing in the Barry Burn with his trousers rolled up as he threw away the British Open at Carnoustie in 1999.

After his first attempt to get his ball out of the water, which somehow found land, his game unravelled, much like the character in Kevin Costner's 1996 film Tin Cup, as he continuously went for the pin.

For Arsenal on Sunday, pressure exerted such a mental burden on the Gunners that after just 16 minutes of play they were 2-0 down against Chelsea, their London rivals.

On paper there was little to fear for Arsenal. Four days previously Chelsea had struggled to draw against Southampton, a team who lie in 15th in the Premier League table.

Since Rafa Benitez takeover as manager, Chelsea's home record had been poor. Statistically Arsenal are the most successful visitors to Stamford Bridge with seven wins.

And yet their fragility had it that they could not, and would not win. Arsenal simply did not turn up and after the break, when they had little to play for, they were freed. Even though Theo Walcott's score in the 58th minute appeared to crowbar his side back into the game, in reality Arsenal never had the belief that they could even salvage a draw. The mindset has been a fixture of their season.

Walcott's nine league goals have generated just one league point, the 1-1 result at Everton in November, highlighting the fact the 23 year old has scored this season when the result was academic.

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, acknowledged his team's psychological weakness after the match.

He alluded to the 2-0 home defeat by Manchester City nine days ago, and how it had rocked his side.

He mentioned how unlucky his team had been and bemoaned the decisions of Martin Atkinson, the referee, and how they had adversely affected the result.

He highlighted, once again, the great spirit coursing through his side, but in reality it is not there.

A quote from another film made in 1996 springs to mind, Nicholas Cage in The Rock. As this is a family paper it will be paraphrased.

Sean Connery says. "I'll do my best," to which Cage replies: "Your 'best!' Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home with the prom queen."

Arsenal are whining. Chelsea went home with the prom queen.

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