On Sunday against Villa the first half felt somewhat like the last days of Rome, while the second half felt like the glory days of the Invincibles and the differences between those feelings are subtle. To get back into the game and win it was achieved by an act of will. To get into the position of being 2-0 down at half time was all about lethargy and some basic poor football. Pythagoras may have been proud of our first half performance but Vieira would not have been. For me, this current Arsenal squad are nowhere near good enough, yet I have been more encouraged by them than some of our recent squads because on occasion what the players have lacked in quality they have made up for with heart.
In 2011 I believe that even the most optimistic of supporters have acknowledged that we have problems at The Arsenal, and with all the various opinions as to where and why things have gone wrong for the club many theories have been put forward.
Psychology may furnish an answer. The mentality of players bought to Arsenal has changed over the last half decade. The players bought in have shown a mental fragility at times; important times and the head is a key element in a team game. A mentality can make a significant contribution to a team; a loser can become a winner, an also ran a success. Ability coupled with heart and head can yield tremendous rewards.
When the transition happened in ’97 we saw a set of players who understood ‘the Arsenal way’ joined by more talented players who soon understood what that meant. In this union was forged the greatest Arsenal side that had been seen for many a year.
If you had to characterise the Psychological make up of that group of players you would probably use the term ‘never say die’ such was the belief every time they stepped onto the pitch. It has been a long time now since we’ve seen that attitude and like sharks in bloodied waters our competitors can probably sense that instability.
Comeback v Villa 04
In the second half against Villa we saw a belief. A belief that if we stepped it up, closed down, condensed the space in their half and actively looked to get into the box something might happen. And it did. It was reminiscent of games at Highbury against Liverpool in 2004 when we not only came back from an early goal but from the one two of cup eliminations, in the 5-3 match at home to Middlesbrough when the unbeaten record was on the line and the Villa game in 2004. These are examples of when the team fought their way back into games and you never doubted for one minute that they could do it.
Comeback v 'Boro 04
I guess that’s where you see true character; in adversity. The Invincibles, who are of course the benchmark, weren’t perfect but they could dig in with the best of them and come back from the brink. That’s something we are now capable of, but not often enough. Too often the character of our squad has been tested and found wanting.
Comeback v Liverpool 04