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

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - FRONT PAGE - ALAN SMITH

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.

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