Tag Archives: winners

Arsenal, Leicester & the much-fabled ‘Mental Strength.’

Originally published in the Gooner fanzine – pick yours up outside the Emirates on matchday.

Leicester City’s fairytale lifting of the Premiership crown is well documented – and for good reason.

The season prior to this miraculous feat saw the same side escape the maw of relegation only by a late Herculean effort. 

To then transform themselves into a title-winning team indicates that it was down to belief and the fiercest of winning mentalities. 

This season has seen that burning desire which fuelled their glory run extinguished, and the men who performed well above their station have since returned to their natural level.

These are the same players, and yet the champions are stark in their contrast to the previous year. How can eleven men appear to be unbeatable on the pitch, and then revert back to type in such a short space of time?

It can only be their mentality which changed them. 

Three losses from thirty eight games. Jamie Vardy bagging twenty four goals, and Riyad Mahrez grabbing seventeen. A Stoke City reject and a journeyman from the lower leagues comprising an unbreakable central defensive partnership.

Where did these players summon this superhuman feat from? Their rise from abject, to sublime and then back to abject again, is a tale of motivation and of mental strength in the face of adversity. 

There were mitigating factors of course. No fixture congestion, no European commitments and they escaped unscathed in terms of injury to key personnel. 

A 38-game season does not lie though. All the top teams had ample opportunity to overcome the Foxes. They just couldn’t rise to the occasion and were bested.

On paper, Arsenal’s team is head and shoulders above the current champions. From goalkeeper to attack, we have the edge in terms of talent. So why did Leicester lift the title and not us?

Is Kasper Schmeichel a better goalkeeper than Petr Cech? Of course not, but what helped the Dane repel attack after attack was the proverbial wind beneath his wings. He believed that the team he played for could achieve something. He and his teammates believed it so much, they were unwilling to budge in the face of adversity and even reality. 

Take the story of Danny Drinkwater. The English midfielder was sent on loan to the likes of Huddersfield and Barnsley whilst on the books at Manchester United. He failed to make the grade and Championship side Leicester snapped him up. His performances alongside N’Golo Kante were a revelation in 2015-16 and he earned international recognition thanks to his displays. 

In essence though, he is a workhorse and nothing more. He was buoyed by those around him and his above-average stamina saw him run around every blade of grass to great effect. Does he deserve to stand above Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere? Not in terms of talent, but with his Premier League medal he can always say he is a champion. Ramsey and Jack cannot.

The missing ingredient which the Gunners have sorely lacked is that determination and belief. When Ranieri’s men went a goal down, there were no slumped shoulders or disconcerted gesticulating. They continued with a formulaic gameplan which played to their strengths and most fundamentally of all – they never gave up. 

They believed that they would get something from every game. 

We have seen, in our losses to Chelsea and Bayern especially, the winning spirit sap visibly from our players when a setback occurs. Is it due to the lack of a vociferous leader on the pitch? Is it a lack of effort? All of these assets were in Leicester’s team.

Whose job is it to instill this mental framework into the players? Is it down to Wenger? He has trotted out the ‘mentally jaded’ phrase so many times after disappointment, that it leaves you wondering what the players are doing in their downtime. Is it a day crammed with super-tough sudoku?

Surely the players must step up to the precipice and be counted? Wenger has numerous failings, but once his charges cross the white line on the turf, there is little much else he can do to change events. The players need the hunger for success. They cannot be allowed to be sated by currency and an assured position in the team. If they are, then they either need a firm reminder or be shown the exit door. 

Leicester’s fire in their bellies has gone, and they now sit in an eerily similar position to before they became champions. 

Arsenal without the spirit and drive will always come up short when challenges require it. 

Talent is useless without it. 

At The London Football Awards 

On television, an awards ceremony is glossy. It is a conveyor belt of celebrity and headlines. The awards themselves are designed to highlight some exceptional work by a chosen professional in their field., and when the trophies are presented, we get to hear a snippet about the winner’s story on how they got to sit at the summit.

Football awards are no different, especially now the professionals are as close to megastars as the thespians who walked the red carpet at the Oscars recently. The big names need no introduction, but the awards ceremonies are there to do exactly that. They are the glitzy fanfare for deserving individuals that have excelled in their chosen sectors. 

And for the biggest awards, we can hear that fanfare from any given place in the world.

I was kindly offered to attend the London Football Awards on the 2nd of March, at Battersea Evolution. I was to be an official member of the press and gain some soundbites from the attending football glitterati so the charity at the root of the LFA’s – the Willow Foundation – could gain some valuable testimony on the wonderful work they do.

It meant that I was to be given license to speak to some of my heroes. It was an offer I could not refuse.

As I entered the arena, there were a huge number of dedicated Willow volunteers working their magic in the final preparations for the event. I was given my press pass – I was unashamedly proud when I saw my name on it – and I was directed to the press enclosure where the pro’s would walk past on their way to their tables for the night.

I spoke first to Bob Wilson – Arsenal’s Double-winning keeper and all-round gentleman – and the man who started the Willow Foundation spoke warmly about the growing stature of the awards and how their prominence is on the rise. 

Footballers past and present were coming and going and it was a lot to take in. The majority of the players time was spent ahead of us in front of the plethora of camera’s lying in their path, but I was quite content to bask in the light of these stars. I’ve always wanted to be a member of the press and this was the legitimate experience.

A man who I have spoken to on a number of occasions stopped to talk about the LFA’s, and Alan Smith was as warm and forthcoming as ever. He praised the idea of celebrating the clubs and players from the capital and the often unheralded work Willow do for those who need the aid most.

Perry Groves, Lee Dixon, David Seaman and Ian Wright. These were just a few ex-Gunners who attended the event, and David Seaman was quite gracious indeed with his time. His wife and Willow Ambassador Frankie Seaman stopped to talk and she told me that he always has time to give answers to the press, or anyone who asks him, such is his kind nature. Our former goalkeeper was with us for quite some time, and commented on everything from Arsene Wenger’s future to the rotation of Petr Cech and David Ospina. 

For the record, Safe Hands will not speak out against Wenger as he declared the Frenchman the ‘best coach I’ve ever had.’ Also, he thinks the rotation of our goalkeepers is needless. To hear this straight from the source, undiluted, was a real treat.

Gary Mabbutt, Tony Cottee, Gary Lineker, John Motson, Tom Cairney, Eni Aluko, N’Golo Kante and Antonio Conte were just a taste of the names who were at the night. There were far more, but with only an hour to grab as many comments as possible, it is inevitable that some get through the net.

These awards are a real fillip for London’s teams, especially as all aspects of the game are considered in the awards categories. 

Here are the Awards and the Winners from this special night:


Premier League Player of the Year:

N’Golo Kante


London Manager of the Year:

Antonio Conte



London Young Player of the Year;

Dele Alli



London Goalkeeper of the Year;

Hugo Lloris


EFL Player of the Year;

Tom Cairney



London Women’s Player of the Year:

Jordan Nobbs


London Community Project of the Year:

Fulham’s Feltham Young Offenders Institute Scheme.
The London Football Awards were a real success and next year will be even bigger. Let’s hope that Arsenal manage to bag a few next year!