Perhaps it’s just because it was used as the title for the official site’s post-match Wenger piece, but the line “the team has to believe more in its quality” was one that particularly caught my attention in the manager’s press conference.
To give the quote in its full context, the boss said after the game:
“There’s a great spirit in the team. There’s great quality in the team. The team has to believe more in the quality we have. You could see with 10 men against Man City and today again that we can be dominant in the games. We have to [do that] from the start.”
This all sounds very, very familiar to you all by now I’m sure. Wenger has always been a big fan of publicly defending his team or individual players when there is a lot of negativity thrown at them. Over the years there has obviously been more negativity as fans have grown impatient and it’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore that we’re not winning silverware or even really challenging for it. As a result, Wenger has just got more defensive of his team, particularly their ‘spirit, which is a word you actually associate with relegation-threatened managers who know their side is doomed and want to do their best to keep morale up – not a side that is getting the results it needs.
The more he does it, the more ridiculous it looks, and the more the fans get frustrated. We know what we saw today wasn’t good enough and it would be nice to know the players are getting something of a bollocking for it. Perhaps that is what goes on behind the scenes, but when the public perception is that Wenger is happy with his players and believes they are not far away from achieving something, perhaps that would explain the apparent lack of pressure on them, which means they do what they’re doing at the moment – playing only 45 minutes per game. The fans pay good money to go to games and have a right to voice their opinion, and a right to expect that more is being done to improve results by the manager whose enormous wages they pay.
Wenger says this team needs to believe in its quality more; I’d possibly say the exact opposite. Arsene, you’ve been telling us and your players how good they are for the last seven years and it hasn’t exactly worked, has it? What is clearly needed is for this team to know that, despite their quality, they need to put in the hard work to getting results, whether they’re playing Bradford or Chelsea. They can’t keep playing like they think showing up will be enough, or one good half of football will be enough.
On the rare occasion in the past that Wenger has tried a tougher approach with his team, the players have responded very well. A notable example is the 09/10 game against Liverpool, when we were 1-0 down at half time but improved in the second half to win 2-1 at Anfield. After that game, Cesc Fabregas had this to say on Wenger’s inspiring half-time team talk:
“The boss screamed. I’ve never seen him like that before. He was really disappointed in the first half and said we didn’t deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt if we played like that. And I think he was right.”
The clue is in the fact that Cesc said he’d never seen Wenger like that before. This is a trick the boss only pulls out very occasionally. Perhaps if he did it too often it wouldn’t have the same shock impact, but when you look at the success of managers like Ferguson and Mourinho, it’s hard to argue that a tougher approach seems to bring success. They might divert attention away from their players by criticising referees and so on, but they certainly don’t make many excuses when they know their teams have been below par. You won’t hear them talking about ‘mental strength’ and ‘spirit’ when they’ve just lost a game they should have won.
We were unlucky today. If our finishing had been better we might have got away with our non-existent first half performance, but the reality is that against teams like Chelsea you invariably don’t get away with it. We had a bit of a crazy game there last season and – van Persie aside – we probably had a weaker team out there that day, with the likes of Santos, Ramsey and Gervinho in the lineup. We had a lot of injuries today to key players like Arteta and Podolski, but still probably a stronger team overall than Swansea, and certainly QPR, two sides who have won at Stamford Bridge recently. Any group of players who aren’t fully motivated are not going to get good results, but if you show up with a real desire then you can cause a surprise. Laudrup, Adkins and Redknapp achieved good results at Chelsea with lesser teams than ours because they really motivated them. If a team like ours is 2-0 down and staring down the barrel of defeat after just 15 minutes you know something has gone wrong, and in my opinion that comes from the manager more than anyone.
So no, I disagree that this team needs to believe in itself more. It needs to be reminded – to use Cesc’s words – what it means to deserve to wear the shirt. Why not? If one approach clearly isn’t working, you can only go so long before trying another.
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