In the pre-match press conference yesterday, Arsene Wenger was asked what he wants to say to despondent Arsenal fans. A thought did cross my mind as to whether the journalist asking the question was one of the only 22 readers of a certain Arsenal blog who signed a non-starter petition to lobby the board to fire the manager.
In the view of the journalist (clearly a beacon of professional integrity and statistical analysis), a huge proportion of Arsenal fans no longer share Wenger’s belief that Arsenal can challenge for the title.
The Arsenal manager seemed somewhat baffled with how to answer the question before going for the ”let’s get a bit of perspective here” answer.
Wenger’s view is that Arsenal is actually in a fairly decent position for a team that was totally written off pre-season not to even make the top four. We perhaps all need a modicum of perspective to appreciate that being 6 points off the top with 14 games to go and having played almost all your tough fixtures is not a bad place to be.
Like many of us, the manager’s disappointment seems to be with the manner in which Arsenal conceded ground to Man United. Clearly, the team didn’t shroud themselves in glory.
Facing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge is as good a game as any to put matters right. The team owe themselves that, and they owe the fans a respectable performance of the calibre we have come to expect.
Stamford Bridge is never an easy place to visit, but the Gunners have shown that they can defy all the odds and get a comprehensive win. Arsenal were also written off in this fixture last season, and yet they beat Chelsea emphatically, despite Djourou gifting them an own goal.
It would be folly to assume that Chelsea’s mental strength will be ruffled by the shenanigans of their beleaguered captain. The Blues are professional enough to park the humiliation and embarrassment of their captain and turn up for work.
I feel that this game is extremely important psychologically. There’s a growing sense that Arsenal have a mental block when it comes to playing Man United and Chelsea.
I personally don’t think it’s that straightforward – considering that from a possible 12 points that could be collected by playing the two teams, Arsenal got seven of them last season. I think the bigger problem for those who see this as a big deal is more to do with the humiliation of losing bragging rights.
What is not in question is that it’s unacceptable for Arsenal to play like they did last Sunday against Man United. A repeat of last Sunday’s performance easily qualifies as professional suicide.
My sense is that I’ll be happy with a loss or draw so long as the Arsenal team fight tooth and nail for every ball and that they apply themselves with gusto. A positive result is the least expected, but it’s not the end of the season if we don’t get the three points.
Chelsea and Man United will drop points not least against each other. For me, it’s more important for the Arsenal team to get their pride back and to regain the psychological advantage.
In this respect, the pressure being put on this game as the be all and end all is somewhat artificial. It’s more important to get back into the mix and regain the psychological advantage.
The real fight is in the home stretch with Arsenal’s last 12 games. The other title challengers have arguably more demanding fixtures.
Arsenal need the consistency and confidence to tackle this home stretch positively. A positive game against Chelsea is just what the doctor ordered.
My sense is that Wenger will go for a starting line-up of:
Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy
Song, Fabregas, Diaby
Rosicky, Bendtner, Arshavin
Nasri, Eboue and Walcott are likely to feature at some point.