Manchester United: Are They The Source of Arsenal's Inconsistency?
Let me begin by saying that I realise it sounds absurd that Manchester United could be responsible for the inconsistency of this current Arsenal side, but when you look at the facts, it makes sense...sort of.
Speaking to a friend the other day, who incidentally is a Liverpool supporter, he mentioned that he believed that United were to blame for Arsenal's troubles. I scoffed at the suggestion but after continuing the conversation with him for a while, his points began to make sense.
Since Arsene Wenger took over as Arsenal manager from Bruce Rioch in 1996, Arsenal almost immediately were a different side. Wenger's first full season at the helm in 1997-98 ended in a Premier League and F.A. Cup double.
Arsenal finally believed that they could win trophies, something that hadn't happened since the F.A. Cup win in 1992-93 and not in the league for seven years.
The next three seasons were dominated by the team from Manchester, and while Arsenal had blips during these seasons, they were runners up in all three as well as finishing runners up in the F.A. Cup and UEFA Cup and winning a Charity Shield during this time.
Arsenal still believed they could win trophies, the only obstacle was...Manchester United.
After three seasons of playing second fiddle to Manchester United's table topping side, Arsenal broke free of the shackles and completed another "double" of Premier League and F.A. Cup trophies in 2001-02.
Arsenals belief that they could win trophies was justified as they bounced back to top United at seasons end by finishing the season with a 13-game winning streak and defeated Chelsea in the F.A. Cup.
United won the title the following season in 2002-03, but Arsenal gained another F.A. Cup to add to the collection when they defeated Southampton 1-0.
Arsenal as a club still believed that they could win trophies and determined that they could put the old enemy to bed in the following season.
2003-04 was Arsenal's season, they finished the season undefeated and won the Premiership title. The first team to do so since Preston North End in 1888-89.
Arsenal as a club now knew that their belief that they could win was correct, they were "Invincible".
Arsenal started the 2004-05 season as they ended the previous one...unbeatable. That was until they met Manchester United at Old Trafford. United won 2-0 and Arsenal's streak ended at 49 games.
The loss seemed to hit the side hard after such a long time unbeaten and inconsistencies cropped up more often. Arsenal drew games they should have won, and lost games after taking the lead.
Arsenal as a club no longer believed they could win...United had unerringly and with devastating force, removed the belief from the players and the club as a whole.
Players seemed more nervous on the ball and didn't seem to take as many chances any more, almost as if they were fearful that the whole thing would come crashing down around their ears.
If you look at the results since since, it is possible. The fear of winning can be as great as the fear of losing.
Although Arsenal won the F.A. Cup and finished runners up in the league in 2004-05 it was more of a wind down of the belief.
Since then, Arsenal have never been able to achieve even second position in the league, throwing away a title winning lead last season, losing a League Cup final to Chelsea and, more famously, losing a European Cup final to Barcelona from a winning position.
I know that the players and staff have changed since 2004, but just maybe the lack of belief that they can win trophies is entrenched so deep in the mentality of the club and so passed onto new players like a virus.
Unwittingly transmitting to players that, although we are a good side and can play well, we are not quite good enough to go all the way.
This is just a theory of course, discussed by two men over a couple of beers.
Maybe we're completely wrong and United are not to blame.
But maybe, just maybe, we're right.
Judge the facts for yourself, and more importantly...
Bring back the belief.
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