Earlier in the season I had written an article on why Arsenal have developed a winning mentality while Manchester United hadn’t this season. Up until that point Arsenal were alive in all competitions and it almost looked like aforegone conclusion that they would lift the Carling Cup. Arsenal were on the ascendancy while United had shown fragility and had displayed an uncharacteristic weakness on several occasions.
At that time Manchester United had given up leads against Everton, Fulham and West Brom which was highly uncharacteristic of them and some of them were even two goal leads. Their away form was truly poor. Arsenal on the other hand were looking good with a fully fit squad and had the possibility of a quadruple. It was looking like a trophy was finally destined to come to the Emirates.
But how wrong could I have been
In recent weeks Manchester United have displayed immense character and mental fortitude while the Gunners have struggled and shown fragility managing to draw their last three games.
Arsenal might have shown character in their draw against West Brom but their performances except for that fightback in the last twenty minutes of that match have been abject and those of a team that has resigned to the fact that they will not win the league.
Arsenal have over the last five years proven to be weak willed at times and are known to bottle up when pressure starts to rise. Over the last six years they have been presented various opportunities to end their trophy drought but each season around March when injuries start to rise, the team begins to collapse and crumble eventually going home without silverware.
Everyone felt this season was different: Alive in four competitions, in the Carling Cup final, they had beaten Barcelona and were second in the league. Then on February 28th it all started to unwind.
The loss against Birmingham started the downfall of the Gunners this season. Since that disappointing and gutting loss, the Gunners have managed just one win at home to Leyton Orient in the FA Cup. Since then the Gunners have been sent packing from the Champions League, from the FA Cup and now face an uphill task to lift the Premier League having fallen 7 points behind Manchester United thanks to three consecutive draws against Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Blackburn Rovers.
The draw against Blackburn was the most frustrating, disappointing one with even Arsene Wenger’s press conference conveying that feel. The manager usually at least makes an attempt to look at positives after every match but following this display he blamed only the team and not the fixture list for the draw and rightfully so.
In the match against Sunderland a weakened Arsenal were denied a victory by some appalling refereeing decisions while against West Brom they showed some guts and spirit to fightback to draw 2-2 from two nil down.
But seeing the Blackburn match I along with all other Arsenal fans were let down and disappointed by the effort from the players. It was only after the introduction of Chamakh and Bendtner that some urgency was added and Arsenal created some chances and played like a team actually contending for the title. This might sound a bit harsh but the entire outing was a sheer disappointment and was pathetic. Blackburn played with the heart and passion that all Arsenal fans long to see in their team but it never happens.
On the same day in which Manchester United produced a stunning fightback, Arsenal showed their weak willed side to draw against Blackburn.
The problem according to me lies in the mentality.
There has been some improvement from the team in this regard. Arsenal’s performances against Chelsea, Birmingham, Everton and Barcelona all showed character and quality but this has been present only in glimpses.
Many predicted this to be the year when Wenger’s boys finally became men and for much of the season they threatened to do so except of course when it matters.
Arsenal as usual saved the worst for the last. Their form over the last month has been poor. They have failed to show the commitment, passion one expects from a top notch team like Arsenal. Second in the league with a great chance to lift a trophy after a six year break and the Gunners start to crumble once again.
What makes this all the more frustrating is Manchester United’s ability to sneak the wins and battle it out. I dislike both Manchester United and their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson but I have to admit I admire their never say die attitude, their ability to grind out the wins no matter the odds.
They might have been throwing away leads at the start of the season but as the season has approached it’s business end they have bounced back from losses against Chelsea and Liverpool to win against Bolton and West Ham.
During the course of both matches I thought they would never win but as usual they did win. After being reduced to ten men against a fighting Bolton, Manchester United’s spirit showed as they beat them 1-0 thanks to a Berbatov goal. Then after being 2-0 down at half time against West Ham they produced another of their stirring fightbacks to win 4-2 thanks to a hat-trick from Wayne Rooney.
I just don’t see Arsenal producing this kind of a comeback. Many a times instead they end up giving other teams an opportunity to fightback.
To win the league mere quality is not enough, every team requires passion and a certain fighting spirit in them. This is where Manchester United and Arsenal differ so vastly. While Arsenal are often weak willed, Manchester United are always fighting. Gone are the likes of Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira. Those were players who were real fighters and true leaders.
Instead Arsenal have the likes of Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas leading them. They are great players and some of the finest in the league but they are definitely not the leaders this Arsenal team require so very desperately.
I believe that this current Arsenal squad is as good if not better than Manchester United in terms of talent and quality.
Arsenal’s defense has proven to be rock solid when fully fit and with both Szczesny and Fabianski maturing, Wenger’s goalkeeping conundrum had found a solution.
But the difference lies in the heart of the players. Sir Alex Ferguson always manages to inspire his side even amidst the most lackluster of performances. Wenger sadly falls short in this aspect.
The Blackburn game summed up everything wrong with this Arsenal side. Ryan Nelsen’s and Samba’s performances showed the passion and commitment of footballers. They gave everything in and in the end succeeded in keeping a clean sheet and were successful in handing another blow to Arsenal’s already faltering title challenge.
Arsenal on the other hand showed neither the heart or the commitment required to win the league.
Manchester United have been poor on several occasions and have hardly showed the class of champions but they have had the heart of champions and this will most likely take them to the top of the Premier League and to the coveted 19th league title.
For Arsenal it will in all possibilities be another promising but eventually disappointing season in which they threatened to do great things but eventually tumbled when it most mattered. Arsenal will not end their season until they have the mentality of true champions and until they learn how to fight and win.
I might proved to be wrong if Arsenal do show all these qualities and sneak the title but based on recent performances they neither deserve to win and in all probabilities will not win it.