I suppose many people might have expected, following more than two months undefeated, that when a defeat came along it would have the potential to reignite some old wounds. Glass jaw, don’t like it up ’em, no Plan B etc. You know the wounds.
But funnily enough, I think by and l large that hasn’t happened too much since we lost on Wearside. How can you judge whether Arsenal missed van Persie when pretty much the whole team failed to do itself justice? Or whether 4-3-3 is a system suited to van Persie and not Eduardo? We’ve largely had a very decent run, during which we’ve played some excellent stuff, but it all went very wrong on Saturday.
On paper we’ve got more than enough attacking talent to compensate, you’d have thought, even though there can be no denying that in van Persie you are losing a man at the very top of his game.
What has been really interesting is the reaction of Wenger himself, something picked up by anyone who has been a keen student of Wenger psychology over the years. Goonerholic covers it all pretty nicely.
In the post-match interview on Saturday he seemed flat (though I suppose he was hardly likely to be dancing a jig), and he was surprisingly critical of his side, without naming names. And today, while the Wenger grin had returned, he still spoke of “deficiencies… that we have to make sure are not repeated”.
And this is what he had to say about players looking to play their way into their world cup squads:
“For me, the big season is with Arsenal, not the World Cup. We don’t pay players to go to the World Cup – we pay them to do well for Arsenal. The first pride of a man is to do well for the guy who pays you.”
Quite right too, and it’s easy to see why Wenger, who had 15 players away over the international break – at the cost to the club in wages of several million pounds – was in no mood for conciliatory words about their travails. He lost van Persie and Gibbs out injured, while plenty of others came back tired or unprepared for action. That’s no excuse, especially given Chelsea and Man Utd’s comprehensive results under the same circumstances, but it can’t have helped.
Still, there are plenty of good things too, not least getting right back in the saddle to make amends so soon. And the return of Walcott, at least until someone bumps into him again.
But seriously, while it might have dented the morale ahead of Sunday’s face-off, a defeat can easily enough be scrubbed with a committed, attacking performance tomorrow night against Standard Liege.
Wenger’s made it pretty clear what’s expected. Shame he has had to reiterate that, but still.