It is an accepted historical fact that Arsenal always start every season strongly, but as soon as it comes down to the nitty-gritty in January and February, they drop down the table like a lead balloon. Arsene Wenger has strengthened the squad immensely over the last few years, but the Gunners are still not able to sustain the challenge for the whole of the season.
The Arsenal legend Nigel Winterburn doesn’t think that this is because the players are not good enough or don’t try hard enough, they simply don’t have the confidence or belief that they can actually win the League. The Arsenal Double-winner said in the Mirror: “I played with teams that were used to winning, winning trophies every single season. We had that mentality and belief and that helps so much. You knew deep down that everything was there for you.
“But with this team, they’ve won a couple of FA Cups but they haven’t been that close in the league when it’s come to the nitty gritty of April and May.
“Sometimes you look at the mentality of a player and maybe they are affected by the results too quickly. When you’re confident, you move the ball quicker, your play is sharper and the team plays well.
“I don’t agree with this idea that players are not trying. Players always try. But when you’re not confident, your movement is not as sharp, you make silly mistakes, you’re hesitant, you think about things a lot more. That’s different to not trying.
“Ability-wise, I’m 100 per cent sure that there were a lot of players out there who had more individual ability than I had. But I just refused to accept defeat. At weekends, if I lost a game of football, we definitely didn’t go out.
“It’s hard when you’re not there every single day to understand what they are really like. But they do seem a little frail and I think that comes through maybe not winning league titles and so you don’t have that real belief that you can pull it round quickly.
“We had some strong characters so you definitely didn’t stay down for too long.”
So why don’t Arsenal have these strong characters any more? We often talk about the Gunners not having any leaders on the pitch during the games, and Arsene Wenger hardly ever shouts instructions from the sidelines when things are going wrong on the pitch, so how are we ever going to turn games around?
Winterburn was then asked if he thought Wenger was just happy to gain a Top Four place and get into the Champions League, but he says when he played there was only one thought in their minds, coming top of the tree. He continued: “I’ve done Q&As with Arsene before and been asked about it. From my point of view, finishing in the top four is an achievement that they should be proud of. But as a player when I was at Arsenal, I was only interested in one thing. That was being No 1, winning.
“I wasn’t interested in being second. Finishing second shows that you are consistent but one team has been better than you over the course of a season.”
It seems to me that the only player on the pitch nowadays that just wants to win at all costs is Alexis Sanchez, and it is very likely to be his last season at the club. So where are we going to find the right players with the right winning mentality?