Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chocolate-powered Arsenal

"Pressure is very big and has always been. We do not play for tablets of chocolate, we play for trophies and that is what we want to win."

- Arsene Wenger, on Arsenal's new focus on trophies and not candy

This year, we're playing for trophies, not tablets of chocolate.

Is this an admission that in the previous four years, we have been playing for tablets of chocolate? Is this the reason why we took our eyes off the trophies and began a youth policy that doesn't seem to come to fruition? It kind of makes sense. Maybe Wenger thought that with such a young squad, candy bars would be a better motivational goal than shiny metal trophies. As with Pavlov's dogs, he'd sit the team around the dressing room after a win and hand each member a chocolate bar. Then they'd associate the winning mentality with chocolate, and after a while, they'd get into that winning mentality by just showing them bars of chocolate before a big match.

Of course, because chocolate is so ubiquitous, it soon got out of hand. Players who were super-hungry for that winning feeling would just gorge themselves on chocolate instead of playing hard on the pitch to get that feeling. That led to a whole heap of self-satisfied players who didn't feel like they had to work hard on the pitch to get that winning feeling. And that led to a bunch of unsatisfying, horrible performances by the Arsenal. And now, Wenger's come to the conclusion that Pavlovian conditioning isn't the best way of motivating a football team. So we've reverted to putting an old-fashioned carrot in front of the players - trophies.

I think this is a sign that things are looking up. It's depressing to watch a team that plays for candy. They play sweetly when things are going for them, but when the pressure's on, they turn soft and gooey and not particularly pleasant. Last year was a nadir in terms of chocolate-powered Arsenal. This year, under the steely eye of Tom Vermaelen, we can hopefully play for something more than just candy.

We're playing Birmingham next. Again, it's a game we should win. It's been said before that the trick of winning the league is to get maximum points against all the lesser teams. We're always going to drop points against the Top 4, but as long as we win the winnable matches, we'll still be in contention. The key is to win the matches, not just draw. Drawing these matches is two points lost, which is almost as bad as three points lost for a loss.

Mannone should start in front of Fabianski and Almunia. Fabianski is an exciting young 'keeper, but much of that excitement is due to the fact that he's so recklessly dangerous. It's fun to watch him sprinting out of the box and chasing after the ball like a mad dog playing fetch, but it's not good for the heart. Mannone's been a bit more dependable in the games he's started this year. And unless Fabianski and Mannone are injured, Almunia shouldn't play for Arsenal again. Never ever Almunia again.

Also, I like it that Mannone's still young enough to be motivated by a big tablet of chocolate. Just don't eat it all at once, Vito, or you'll get a tummyache.

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