For six years Wenger has been trying to instill self-belief and character in his young players by constantly praising their ‘mental strength’. Many a time did I cringe because not only did he say it after a good win, he’d even say it when we’d displayed a distinct lack of mental strength. A case in point was immediately after the Carling Cup Final defeat to Birmingham when he outrageously claimed: “It’s a good opportunity to show our mental strength, which I think is great.”
Well, it seems like his Jedi mind tricks may finally be working because after coming from behind twice against Chelsea to claim victory, we did so again at Carrow Road to make it five wins on the spin.
When Mertesacker did his best impression of a felled Giant Redwood in the 16th minute, lumberjack Morison took advantage to put the hosts ahead. To say it was against the run of play is an understatement as a determined, vibrant Arsenal had gone close three times already, most notably when Walcott’s goal-bound shot was somehow cleared off the line by Russell Martin.
When the goal went in I shook my head at yet another calamitous piece of defending which seems to have blighted our game this season. Crucially though, I was convinced we would still win. A quick glance at the clock and I decided I’d be disappointed if we weren’t ahead by the interval.
Why such optimism? Because not only were we technically superior to Norwich and ripping them apart at will, but we looked up for it — snapping into tackles in midfield, closing down the ball carrier in all areas of the pitch and attacking with purpose. The Chelsea comeback seems to have taught the players to have faith in their abilities and I could see the belief within the ranks even after losing such a cheap goal.
Compare that with another Saturday lunchtime match two months ago. When Song scored that own goal against Blackburn to make it 2-2 you didn’t need to be psychic to predict what would happen next. The nerves and anxiety were so evident that we fell apart and 20 minutes later were 4-2 down to the worst side in the Premiership.
We are a different animal now. Yes, we still make mistakes at the back but crucially we no longer let them shape the rest of the game. We have discovered the ability to shrug them off and get on with the task at hand. “Fear is the path to the Dark Side” said Wenger to his players before the match. “Mental strength, you have.” It seems they have been listening.
Hmmm, the force is strong in this one. Finish well, he does
Who else but van Persie got the recovery underway with a tap in after excellent work from Walcott. We then made and wasted countless chances before the Dutch maestro latched onto Song’s pass and dinked the ball over John Ruddy for a deserved winner.
Apart from a 10 minute spell before halftime we were totally dominant. The front three combined well and are really starting to click. Ramsey and Arteta are growing with each passing game while Song has rediscovered his best form.
The defence is still a concern, although Vermaelen was outstanding and Koscielny did well at right back. Mertesacker made a terrible mistake but did ok otherwise and I refuse to write off a man capped 80 times by Germany after just 12 appearances. Let’s give him more time to adapt to the Premiership before filing him in the same cabinet as Stepanovs and Cygan.
So lots of positives to reflect on. A good three points against a decent side away from home, the continued excellence of van Persie and five wins on the spin which puts us level with Spurs, Chelsea and Liverpool — who’d have taken that after the Blackburn game?
Most encouraging though is yet more evidence that old Master Wenger has finally got his talented but mentally brittle players to believe in themselves.
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