Resilience is a wall built brick by brick, it’s not a single unit that can be erected overnight.
The last 15 minutes against the Spuds on Sunday were difficult to watch even though we had completely dominated the game up to that point.
RC’s excellent Post yesterday about resilience raised some interesting questions about the physical and mental strength of some of our players.
But I want to consider our mental resilience as a group.
First, if you can bear it, let’s remember those nerve-wracking final minutes:
79: Spuds get a corner following a mistake by Partey.
81. Partey kicks the ball straight out for a corner, while not under pressure.
82. Partey gives it away again.
82. Xhaka dives in and gets booked, giving Spuds a free kick outside the penalty area.
83. Kane heads it into the net. Offside.
84. Tierney boots the ball long, straight to the opposition.
86. Luiz concedes a corner.
86. Moura gets a cross in, Luiz clears for a corner.
87. Corner comes in. Leno, unchallenged, inexplicably chooses to punch rather than catch.
88. Xhaka commits another foul – Spuds have a free kick in the middle of the park.
89. Partey fouls Kane, giving Spuds another free kick just outside our box.
90. Kane hits the post, it bounces back to Sanchez who fires it goalwards. Gabriel brilliantly stops it with his head.
92. We give the ball away again.
94. Gabriel commits a foul in a dangerous spot right outside our penalty area.
94. Kane takes it: over the bar.
95. Final whistle. You can come out from behind the sofa.
What that litany of panic, bad decision-making and nervousness shows us is how frail our collective mental strength is: even in a game where we were clearly superior (so much so that the likes of Lamela and Kane were reduced to off-the-ball vindictiveness since we would not let them play) we came close to psychological collapse at the end.
The reasons can be found in all the carelessly dropped points throughout this season: Xhaka playing a brilliant snooker shot (into the pocket off the attacker’s chest) against Burnley; Ceballos being dispossessed by an opponent against Olimpiacos, leading to a goal; Leno’s questionable choices when passing out from the back; Leno rushing out of the goal to handle the ball and collect a red card; any number of Luiz penalty give-aways; any number of unnecessary fouls by Xhaka; air shots by the likes of Pepe and Lacazette.
We have been burnt so often by our own mistakes that our skin is still raw and unhealed, making us vulnerable to picking up another scar.
I don’t want to go into the individual reasons for that catalogue of cock-ups (we have done plenty of that in recent weeks). But if you think about the overall effect – the sense it must give our boys that no matter how well they’re playing they have the capacity to self destruct – you can see how those final minutes against the noisy neighbours played out the way they did.
So how do we counteract that sense of fear?
There’s only one way: it has to be done bit by bit, piece by piece. The wall of psychological security we need to build around ourselves only gets done one brick at a time. And here’s the good news: games like the one at the weekend, where we buckle but don’t break, represent a brick.
Every time we overcome our nerves and see out a tight game without blowing up, another brick is added. And the more bricks there are in the wall, the greater the chances that we won’t succumb.
If I can mix my metaphors, each new brick, each piece of evidence that we can prevail in adversity, is part of a virtual circle making the arrival of the next brick that bit more likely.
Between now and the end of the season we have the potential to build a decent wall. Not the Great Wall of China, perhaps, but a nice red brick garden wall capable of withstanding the most blustery of gales.
If we get that sort of security in place, next season could finally be the time when we really kick on and get back to where The Arsenal belongs: vying for the big prizes at the top of the table.