Originally published in the Gooner Fanzine.
For over two decades, Arsene Wenger has faced the media. Before and after every result – good and bad – he has plonked himself in front of the mess of audio equipment and flashing bulbs and attempted to articulate his thoughts and those of the club he represents in a way that even the famished journalists can understand.
So in those many, many instances where he has offered his musings, there are inevitably some phrases and words that crop up as frequently as flecks of spittle from Jamie Carragher’s mouth.
His habit of adding the words ‘little bit’ before describing any scenario, be it an injured player or an upcoming match. His ducking and diving of transfer and contract talk. His admittance of substandard eyesight when questioned about any of his players and ill behaviour on the pitch. All are trademark Wenger, but there is perhaps one other Wenger-ism that rises above all.
When our manager is thrust in front of cameras and asked to speak about any result or any match – or even frivolous matters – Arsene Wenger always gives writers and TV channels the same gift for their viewers and readers. His favourite adage has to be the words ‘mental strength.’
As competitions heat up and success becomes harder to achieve and yet more fundamental than any other currency, the battle to gain an edge, any edge, over rivals is the driving force behind the cloak and dagger events that take place at every training ground across the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga. Wenger is aware that the frame of mind a player is in can make the difference in a game, so he has looked for an answer from an unlikely source.
The hiring of backroom staff is news now whereas it would be cast aside in years gone by, and with the hiring of Dr Ceri Evans, Arsenal have sought out what they think may be the key to obtaining the last ten percent they require to be champions again.
It is far removed from when England notoriously used the services of a certain Eileen Drewery. Dr Evans is credited with unlocking the potential within the all-conquering All Blacks rugby team, before they were all-conquering. The New Zealand rugby team were always a force to be reckoned with, but when it came to the World Cup their country so badly wanted, they always came up wanting.They went into every tournament as favourites, but they failed to live up to expectations.
They hadn’t won the World Cup for 23 years. They emphatically sent the monkey from their back packing in 2011 – the year after Dr Evans had began working with them.
They also were victorious in 2015, and Dr Evans was again part of the setup. Coincidence?
Maybe, but the man who now has a role at London Colney is not exactly green when it comes to sport. A fromer captain of his country’s football team, he also played for Oxford United whilst studying at Oxford University for a degree in Experimental Psychology. His father also played professional football and had a stint at Crystal Palace.
Dr Evans has also recently worked with the Mercedes Formula One team, and he has a technique for when the inevitable pressures of top-level sport begin to constrict upon the talent and mindset of individuals and teams. In an article in The Telegraph, his many different techniques link to what is known as an ’emotional thermostat’ and his work is designed to manipulate the inner workings of this so called thermostat – so much so that it can be regulated by the person involved rather than it being involuntary.
He appears to give control back to the sportsmen and women, so that they can free themselves to give everything in the heat of the moment.
Arsenal have commented on his addition to their backroom staff, saying;
We are always looking for new ways to progress and continue competing at the top of the game,” he said. “This involves every aspect of the way we work with our players and this is part of that continuous improvement.”
Arsene Wenger has long maintained that the right level of ‘mental strength’ is pivotal to the hopes of the team, and if Dr Evans’s results are anything to go by, he may be right. Has he already had an impact? Arsenal’s annual wobbles in November were distinctly steadier this year, and they evaded the November curse with no losses in the Premier League.
Wenger said of our last-gasp draw against United at Old Trafford that it was a game we would have lost in years gone by. Are we becoming more resilient?
It may be too early to say that our team look stronger than in previous seasons, but in terms of fight and bared teeth, we do appear to be far more of a match for the teams that are masterful in the darker arts. Stoke have always offered their outstretched leg for our club to trip over, and in our last game they looked to be repeating their old habits, but we came back from a goal down and an injury to Shkodran Mustafi to eventually win comfortably. A few years ago we would have crumbled like a nymphomaniacs resolve in the red light district.
Dr Ceri Evans has had a hand in transforming the former underachievers of New Zealand, into the fearsome All Blacks. From bottle-jobs to World Champions.
It is a leap to say we lack spirit, but if he can give our team the ten percent that the All-Blacks needed to achieve glory, then we should welcome him with a brass band and our own version of the Haka.