Gunners need leader to pull them over line
Published 14/03/2011 | 09:26
If Arsenal are to salvage their season by winning the Premier League, they will need somebody to summon the leadership qualities and mental strength that Arsene Wenger's players simply do not seem to possess.
The ramifications of failure for Arsenal could be catastrophic, because it might never happen if they don't do it this time.
With Manchester United struggling for any kind of form away from Old Trafford, Arsenal continue to have a terrific chance of ending their six-year trophy drought by winning the title.
But they have had a really bad fortnight. They have lost the Carling Cup final and been knocked out of the Champions League and FA Cup in the space of two weeks, and their title hopes now depend on how they react to those setbacks.
Yet the problem they have is that they do not have a leader on the pitch. That has been borne out over the past two to three weeks, when they have gone from being a team on the verge of greatness to one struggling to emerge with anything.
In this situation, Arsenal need somebody to take games by the scruff of the neck, galvanise the team and drag the rest of the players out of the mire.
If you have a Graeme Souness or a Roy Keane in your team, the sheer determination to win that those guys possessed would automatically ensure that half a dozen of their team-mates would think, 'if they want it so badly, then so do I'.
Who do the Arsenal players look to for similar inspiration when things are getting tough? I don't see that they have a natural leader. Cesc Fabregas is the captain, but he is not an inspirational leader; Andrey Arshavin is a supremely talented footballer, but he is not a leader either.
And while Samir Nasri was being touted as a potential Footballer of the Year in November, he has been anonymous in the past three weeks. Giving the captaincy in the Carling Cup final to Robin van Persie was just for show in my opinion, because you tend to look to your midfielders or central defenders to lead the team on the pitch.
Leadership is crucial at this stage of the season when the pressure intensifies. Performing great in November and December is one thing, but you cannot underestimate the mental test posed by the run-in.
Pressure can be intense in one game, but with games running out, the pressure only becomes greater in the next one.
It is now that strong characters and leaders come into their own, especially when you are going for your first big trophy.
From experience, it is a lot easier to do it the third time than the first.
You don't know what's hitting you the first time you are involved in the pressure of trying to win a title.
Arsenal's struggles will be giving Ferguson and United a huge fillip because, while they are having problems of their own, their main rivals are finding it difficult to discover the killer instinct they need to win the title.
The biggest hurdle for Arsenal to overcome is the apparent acceptance within their ranks that, if things start badly, then it is not going to be their day.
United have that ability to grind out results. They know that it is not about winning by five or six at this stage. It is all about getting over the line.
And both United and Arsenal will have to dig out results between now and May 22 because, for all the talk about Arsenal having the easier run-in, there really is no such thing.
Performances are secondary because it is about dealing with the nitty-gritty, being strong mentally and showing the character to pick yourselves up when you have had a bad result.
It is still up for grabs for Arsenal, but they have to start bouncing back at West Brom this weekend -- and that will not be easy. West Brom will be fighting for their lives, so Arsenal have to show that they possess the ability to battle it out for honours. (© Daily Telegraph, London)