Tag Archives: winning

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. 

 Arsenal Employ Sports Psychologist

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. 

Is Wengerball Finished?

Featured in the Gooner Fanzine – pick up your outside The Emirates on matchday!!

No matter how long we endure a barren run, we always had a weapon primed for severe cases of Banteritis.  Under rigorous negative focus, the majestic steed we rode into battle atop was always our flowing play.  We could unlock a packed defence with our masterful artisans.  We had passes up our sleeves that would flummox even the most astute defender. 

Wengerball.  It has been our most prized asset for some time.  Even during seasons past when our squad was being pilliaged by the tyrannical might of Manchester and Chelsea were enjoying the fruits from their siege-football, the way we set up on the pitch drew admiring glances not only from begrudging journalists – but from the footballing elite.

Continue reading Is Wengerball Finished?

Christopher Wreh – The Unsung Hero of 1998’s Double

Behind the veil of memory, those moments of glory oft recalled centre on the men who provided the most minutes for your own personal highlight reel. 

Those stoic fellows who personified the teams heroic push seem to make up the majority of your memories and images when asked to remember certain peaks in your time as a follower of your club.

Continue reading Christopher Wreh – The Unsung Hero of 1998’s Double