It’s becoming a familiar pattern, isn’t it?
Stage One: the team is over-achieving in a way we never imagined at the start of the season; we supporters are beginning to dream; we face a “big test” against a good team; we get thrashed.
At which point we segue into Stage Two: the manager says that “what we do on the pitch now is what matters”; the fans are miserable; some are very angry; scapegoats are identified and pilloried; the media writes us off again.
This week’s scapegoats seem to be primarily Arteta, Ozil and, as always, Arsene Wenger.
Personally I think people are judging Arteta and Ozil too harshly. Mikel has not been playing well for a few games but the rush to write him off as being over the hill is premature. All players (regardless of age) go through bad phases and to consign last year’s player of the season to the scrapheap for three bad performances – one of which was a disastrous effort from the whole team – is unfair.
As for Mesut, he was poor against Liverpool, but no worse than several other players including Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and the likes of Rosicky and Podolski when they came on.
Which is not to say I don’t understand the anger and the desire to point fingers. But the defeat happened: we were awful and Liverpool played as well as they can play.
It’s one game, three points lost and a result that will only attain a greater significance if we let it. If we win our next three league games, this defeat will be quickly forgotten.
We can start on Wednesday against Manchester United by demonstrating that we are capable of putting it behind us.
But how do we avoid this sort of situation and performance happening again?
To me the answer is obvious: we have a wonderful blueprint for what the squad needs to do to be successful between now and the end of May.
Better still, it’s a blueprint that has already been tried and tested by the manager and by most of the players currently in our first team squad.
I refer to the way we played last season after losing in the league game at the N17 Public Convenience.
After that defeat – when our defence was all too easily pulled apart by Totteringham and we were ridiculed by dumber and dumberer on Match of the Day – we refocused and went on to win eight and draw two of our remaining 10 games – a run that powered us into the Champions League spots against all expectation.
I remember those games well. Very few were easy victories. In most games we ground out results by being hard to beat. We started every game with the mentality of “let’s not concede soft goals, then see what happens.”
It was incredibly effective and the platform of confidence it gave the squad has been there for all to see this season.
Contrast that with how we approached the game at Anfield on Saturday. If we had taken to the field thinking “OK, Liverpool are flying at the moment and are at home: they’re going to come at us hard so let’s make sure we are really tight at the back and take the wind out of their sails for the first 20 minutes,” we would not have had the debacle we all witnessed.
For a start the first goal would not have happened because Sagna would not have been miles up the field channeling his inner Theo when Liverpool broke; in which case The BFG would not have had to fill in at right back and find himself in a speed race with Luis Suarez; and if that hadn’t happened he would not have had to foul Suarez, there would have been no free kick and that ugly bloke would never have got his porcelain bonce on the ball in our six yard box.
Instead we started that game as if we thought we were Manchester City: “we won’t worry about defending – we’ll just showboat a bit and we’ll probably score five or six.”
We got what we deserved.
It’s like we started to believe that because we’re top of the table we’re so absolutely fabulous that we don’t need to concern ourselves with the boring, workaday bits of the job.
The table doesn’t lie, but sometimes it tells jokes. And on the evidence of Saturday, us being the best team in the country is straight out of Les Dawson’s pocket book.
Now it’s time to put aside any ideas of grandeur and start thinking like we did in the last 10 games of last season.
Constant hard work; relentless pressing of the opposition when they have the ball; total concentration; playing for your team and your team mates… we have done all of this and more before so we can do it again. We know how to do it.
If Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould can put the players back into that mindset we’ll be fine.
And I want to see it starting on Wednesday against ManUre. Despite Saturday’s humiliation I do not want to see us charging at United like the Seventh Cavalry.
Let’s start with a safety first approach, gradually take control of midfield then wait for the goalscoring chances that will inevitably follow.
It’s not as if we don’t know how to do it.
Of course, following the defeat at the Tiny Totts last year Arsene made some selection changes, including dropping Szczesny and Vermaelen.
Perhaps he’ll do the same this time round, although it’s less likely because (a) we are limited by injuries and (b) the players who failed so badly on Saturday have all being doing well for the most part.
Roll on Wednesday. We need to get back in the saddle…