Okay, so here it is. Something happened to Arsenal to make the players doubt themselves. My guess, the game at Newcastle, where they went up by 4 and then conceded 4 in the second half. They stopped believing they could win, that they are not a team to be reckoned with. The players don't realize how good they are, and after a game like that, who could blame them? If a team like Newcastle, who are good, but not as good as Arsenal had shown up to that point, could do that, what could other teams, better teams do?
I am an avid Arsenal fan. I'm also an avid Barcelona fan, so it was hard for me to choose who to support in the Champions League. In the end, I chose Arsenal because I believed they could win it all. I believed it was their year to shine. I thought they had the best chance of any team out there to beat Barca, and they did. The first game.
Then something happened to them. They lost the Carling Cup, and lost it in a spectacularly stupid and pointless fashion. Okay, so we all make mistakes, and I'm not mad at them for losing. Crap happens, and you move on.
The problem is that they haven't moved on yet. The Carling Cup, Arsenal's easiest route to some silverware this year was over, and they didn't know what to do, how to respond. Suddenly, you could see it go through the players' minds, the simple phrase "Are we good enough to win?" It was a big blow to them, and they left Wembley with a defteated mentality.
I think they are good enough to win. Diehard Gunner fans think they are. I bet, even other teams would agree. However, Arsenal players won't. They have lost all their confidence, and it has shown. Having to go through a replay with Leyton Orient in the FA Cup. Not necessary, but Arsenal conceded a late goal in the first game because they lost confidence and made a few simple mistakes.
Then a draw against Sunderland. A win would have seriously bolstered those fading hearts and minds, but a draw just slammed home the same old refrain "we're not good enough". That's the mentality they took into Barcelona.
Then the awful game at Camp Nou. I'm not sure what happened there, but it was easy to see that there was that phrase hanging over the players. There was no outlet for the pass, no lane to the goal, and that was before RVP got tossed. I will say that, despite the loss, I am very proud of the Gunners on that game, being down a man, and only conceding 2 goals after that. The game could have easily been 7 or 8 to zip (okay, 1, but Arsenal didn't really score that one goal, did they?), but for some beautiful defending and a goalkeeper with something to prove. Yet, they registered no shots on goal. That is not a confident Arsenal, known earlier in the season as the Road Warriors.
Now, going into the FA Cup round with two competions gone, in the blink of an eye, and a heartfelt un-win. What's a team to do?
They won the ball. They outpassed and outplayed ManU's chopped together side. But why did Arsenal lose? Because they did not believe they would win. Their shots were too on target, making it easy for van der Saar. There wasn't that same cannonball strength behind them. The players slowed down instead of speeding up at their opponents' goal. That's not Arsenal. They passed, and they played, but there was no real love or belief behind them. No passion.
And it's not just one or two players. I know there are a lot of people out there blaming Fabregas for not being a leader and for letting all the issues with Barcelona distract him. And to be fair, I'm sure that's part of the problem. But Fabregas is just one player on a team. What about the other 10 out there with him at any given time? What about a manager who's so wrapped up in his vision of making the perfect team that he can't see his almost vision is breaking up? I loved Wenger's idea. Building a team from scratch, no big names, no must haves. Just young talent taught and trained to play together. It really should have worked. And truth be told, on paper, it does.
The problem is that it took too long. Six years, and we're not there. Two years ago, if this had happened, the players would still be out there, fighting for every inch. Now, they look like they've just given up. Not a one of them on that team knows what it's like to really win big. And thus, the crux of the problem. Not winning, and now the quick losses of three pieces of silverware, the team has been demoralized, and they aren't sure how to bounce back. Having a manager who just keeps saying, "We'll win, don't count us out," isn't working. They've obviously lost faith in him. If they still believed in him and his vision, they'd be fighting for everything, not hanging their heads in resignation. Having a captain who can't motivate them because he's just as defeated (or more so than the rest of them) can't work either. And no one else has stepped up. They don't realize how good they are because they haven't won anything in the 6 years they've been playing together.
They won't win anything this season because they don't know how to win.