A L A N S M I T H’S TA LK I N G P O I N T S
Victory often proves elusive when they fall below par – as was the case again at Norwich
When you see the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla combining so wonderfully, exchanging passes with balletic grace, showing mesmeric footwork to sway away from defenders, it is difficult not to believe that this Arsenal side could and should challenge for the Premier League title.
No other team can knock the ball around like this. No one in England can enthral to the same degree. And when you ally such beauty to the fact that Arsenal’s defensive record is pretty good (only Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have conceded fewer goals), it is easy to believe that the components for success are now in place.
Especially when no other team seems willing to take this title race by the scruff of the neck. Manchester City can be flaky, United are dull, Leicester surely cannot keep going whilst Chelsea... well, enough has been said about them. Such is the strange situation, Spurs and Liverpool could turn into proper contenders.
Arsenal should therefore be in with a better chance of grasping the nettle than they have been for the last decade. All the pieces are in place to end their title drought. And yet, and yet. What is it about the Gunners that feeds the reservations? Why do they still fall short every now and again?
It is worth considering that before the draw at Norwich yesterday, Arsène Wenger’s side had lost a third of their matches this season – not a disastrous statistic by any means but not exactly encouraging, either. It points to a weakness in mentality. Victory often proves elusive when they fall below par. That flaw surfaced again at Carrow Road.
Wenger spoke afterwards about tiredness in his team and the fact that Norwich were stronger physically in the second half.
I am not sure, however, that was the real reason for Arsenal tailing off. Now, you can talk about injuries all day. Losing so many players this way certainly doesn’t help. But when Sanchez limped off here with a sore hamstring, his teammates seemed affected in a psychological sense more than anything else, as if losing their talisman damaged morale.
How else to explain the lack of direction and purpose in trying to grab a winner? If energy levels were low, so was a determination to find the breakthrough.
These are still early days. So much of the season is left, and Arsenal could yet sort themselves out to become something different, something more substantial than previous models. If that happens, title glory could yet await. A wet and windy afternoon in Norfolk will be long forgotten as the trophy is hoisted in the May sunshine.
Alternatively, it might just be days like this that supporters remember when they count the games that proved Arsenal’s undoing. Days when the right performance proved elusive.