Arsene Wenger had some comments to make in the aftermath of Arsenal’s fabulous win over rivals Tottenham, focusing on the progress that his team have made since the end of last season.
The 3-1 comeback victory over Tottenham was the best result of Arsenal’s season so far and sent the club to the top of the Premiership table for the first time since October 2004. Wenger gave his thoughts on the win in the post-match news conference but the comment that stood out most in my mind was about Cesc Fabregas’ run of goals.
“Now he can’t stop scoring when before he could not. That shows the importance of what goes on in your head.”
As a studying Sport Psychologist I can’t stress how much I believe this is true, not only for Fabregas, but the team as a whole. One of the reasons that Arsenal were not considered title candidates by a lot of the media or opposition supporters was because in a lot of people’s eyes, on paper, their team was weaker than last season’s. Thierry Henry and Fredrik Ljungberg had left and only a few relative unknowns had come in and that was enough to justify the thought that Arsenal would struggle to achieve fourth place, let alone challenge for the title.
But what people forgot about was the mental side of the game. Confidence cannot usually be bought for money, but is formed as a player grows and gathers an understanding of the mental side of their game. Back in 2003/04 when Arsenal completed an entire Premier League campaign undefeated they did so essentially because they knew they could. In other words, it was not their ability but their confidence that got them over the line.
In the specific case of Fabregas, his confidence is sky high. His recent run of goals meant that when he received the ball 25 yards out to goal at 1-1 he thought ‘Why not?’ rather than ‘Why?’ and the result was a great goal that he just would not have attempted, let alone scored last season. As long as the side keep getting results, he will not be the only one who is positively affected by this mode of thought.
Supporters of the side know that they have the ability, if not the experience to go all the way to the title this season. Although they are yet to face one of the other ‘big four’ clubs, the indications that Arsenal can win the Premiership are there after a very strong start to the campaign. There is bound to be setbacks on the way, but if Wenger and the team can keep their heads in the right place then they should be able to build on the great start and mount a strong title challenge.
Next up, Sevilla
Arsenal will be hoping their fine domestic form can transfer into the Champions League when they host UEFA Cup holders Sevilla on Wednesday night. Arsene Wenger spoke about his side’s chances of winning the competition as well as revealing his admiration for Arsenal’s Spanish opponents.
“Winning the Champions League is something I want to add to Arsenal’s history. We have the potential to do well, but we have a big test on Wednesday – Sevilla are one of the best four or five teams in Europe and they can beat anybody.”
It’s interesting to hear Wenger rate Sevilla so highly. There’s no doubt that they are a great side with a number of great players (Daniel Alves and Frederic Kanoute as well as goalkeeper Andreas Palop stick out in my mind), but I’m not sure I’d rate them in the top five of Europe. Despite this, Wenger is certainly right when he mentions that they can beat anybody and the game will be another massive task for Arsenal.
According to Wenger, Arsenal will have a largely unchanged squad from the one that beat Tottenham, with only Philippe Senderos returning after being suspended in the Premiership.
“Senderos – yes, Gallas- no, Eboue – no, Lehmann – no. Lasanna Diarra is not injured. He will be available.”
It certainly won’t be the end of the world if Arsenal draw or even lose, given that the other sides in the draw are only Slavia Prague and Steau Bucharest. So often clubs struggle to perform well in both the domestic league and the Champions League because of the extra effort that is required to challenge on both fronts, but if Arsenal do happen to beat Sevilla on Wednesday then it should remove any unnecessary pressure and allow the boys to continue their Premier League assault in a confident mood.
What do you think?
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