In the wake of Arsenal’s loss to Stoke F.C. last weekend, much has been discussed concerning Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen’s bold assertion that Arsenal "lacks the bit of spine you need."
Bold words considering he plays for a team that is only back in top tier football for the first time in over two decades. And even more ballsy when you consider that Sorensen has played for two woeful teams in Sunderland and Aston Villa over the last ten years. What is it that they say about people living in glass houses? But that’s beside the point.
The point is that despite (Gunners manager) Arsene Wenger’s assertion that you don’t have to tackle from behind to win games, what you do need is a professional attitude for all games, not just those involving top clubs and Tottenham (which, ironically, was also lacking .
In this humble writer’s opinion, it’s been a glaring issue with Arsenal for the last few years, underscored even more with the departure of superstar Thierry Henry. Simply put, Arsenal is a textbook example of playing to the level of the opposition, not to the level of which they are capable.
It explains the lackluster displays against Hull, Fulham and Sunderland earlier this year, and it explains similar results seen in recent seasons. These are matches that Arsenal not only should win, but should win handily. And while every dog has its day, the dogs seem to have more days than they should when discussing the Gunners.
With Stoke, we saw it again. A talented and skilled Gunners squad running around in circles and–at least from appearances–being manhandled by the feisty Potters. Not to take anything away from Wenger, for he is correct in that you don’t have to start acting like bullies to win. But the best teams in all sports have a careful mix of skill and grit, and while Arsenal definitely possesses the former, they only bring out the latter against "important" teams.
In that respect, you could argue that Sorensen technically has a case to be made. Because you’re going to have to play these "lesser" teams at some point or another, every match has importance if you want to be on top of the League Table.
Sorensen is slightly off with his anatomy, though. Arsenal doesn’t lack the spine. We’ve seen that when their backs are to the wall, they can come up with some dazzling football. What they lack is the heart to stay motivated through 90+ minutes of play. Only then, do I believe, will Arsenal be able to shake off some of the unfortunate labels stuck to their backs.
While it could be argued that what Sorensen said was inappropriate (the only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner), Wenger needs to address the issue of playing complete games and not taking any team or any situation (read: the inexcusable draw against the Hotspur) for granted. Had this mentality been in place, Arsenal might well have played to the level at which they are capable.