The mental strength of this side will be evident in the next few matches. The comprehensive defeat at White Hart Lane has been amusingly glorified by Tottenham, through the immediate release of a commemorative DVD and even a mug, which fittingly is symbolic of Levy and their marketing department, once more portraying our rivals in a true light.
Never has one seen the whole team play so poorly, and it was seen in Wenger’s post-match interview, where his reluctance to accept Spurs’ one, recent day of glory (excluding their defeats of Chelsea and West Ham previously, both of which were followed by a DVD release), embodied the acknowledgement of a huge tactical error. The balance of the side was incorrect, and those involved in errors leading up to the Tottenham goals, and the Adebayor “butting” incident, as it was so subtly described in the tabloids, was focused during the Newcastle game, with both sides looking for instant responses, with Kevin-‘I’ll love it if we beat them’-Keegan, the inspiration for our fourth round rivals. Adebayor’s energy and the scoring of two excellent goals, almost to make up for that incident, was good to see.
The naivety mentioned by Wenger was evident, with several players showing a lack of positional sense and an inability to track back. The latter statement does not only relate to the youngsters, but the most experienced member of the squad in Gilberto. The demise of our Brazilian has been painful to see, and has to do with the eradication of the zone which he normally patrols, with Gallas and Toure pushing up, due to the energy and excellent tackling of Flamini, whose absence from the team does not cause a change in tactics such as a deeper defensive line, allowing a more effective defensive midfielder.
Wenger’s experiment with Diaby forces him to improve his left foot, or so he thought. Our left side was beaten by this tactical manoeuvre, with Diaby not forced inside, where when he did was beaten by the compact opposition midfield. The lack of positional sense of Walcott and Bendtner as well as their lack of movement nullified the more creative players, and caused a block of the final third, with Spurs countering to great effect. Traore has been poor defensively in the majority of his starts, with the exception being Newcastle in the Carling Cup. He will improve, the raw technique is present, and only experience is needed, as recently he seems more like Djimi than Armand. Denilson is yet to find a role in this Arsenal side, touted as an in-between of Rosicky and Gilberto, yet this lack of clarity in either department is affecting his ability to orchestrate some games. There is no need to mention the others, they too, were poor.
Flamini recently claimed that the camp is united, and he epitomises the character needed to be shown by the rest of the squad. From on the verge of an exit, to displacing a World Cup winner and playing the best football of his career, he has shown that a new deal is a priority for the club. The more passive characters in the dressing room, who tend to dwell on such results, such as Walcott, who has also suffered from the ‘English’ hype and pressure, and others such as Alex Hleb, who has only recently shown his true self will be tested to forget this defeat and remember it was a fourth priority competition, used predominantly for the development of youngsters and exposing them to the harshness of top-level cup football.
Since the introduction of a sports psychologist in February 2006, it is clear Wenger trusts the players’ ability but wants an improvement from the psychological perspective. It appears Wenger too believes actions speak louder than words, having cancelled the weekly press conference; the players will too want to make a strong response. Wenger always protects his players from criticism and on many occasions this trust in them can be affected, with players not giving all their focus, playing in a lax manner. Yet, this defeat will be forgotten and the team will give a response owed to the fans (especially the man in the Rocastle shirt at the end) and the manager.
We have seen the response of Arsenal in the aftermath of the Manchester United game in October 2004 as Wayne Rooney attempted to imitate ‘Swan Lake’, and it was not pleasing, but this side is at the beginning of its cycle. In our previous two defeats this season, both have been comprehensive, and also followed by a positive response. We have leaders in this side, both footballing and personality-wise. It is time for them to step up to the plate. The victory over the barcodes in the FA cup was comphrehensive despite the shaky start. For this Premier league fixture, Newcastle will have Joey Barton sitting on the sidelines having had his bail conditions revised, if Kevin Keegan decides to play him, we can at least expect him to be on his best behaviour. Or is violence on the field less serious than that that allegedly occurs off the field?