Victory through harmony if we can get it right
After the Bolton game early in the season a team meeting handout listing motivational points from Wenger was left for a hotel worker to collect and release to the press. It was relatively standard motivational stuff but its key theme was 'A team is as strong as the relationships within it.` Far too many of those relationships broke down last season.
After the inaugural Emirates Cup win against Inter two seasons back van Persie was in positive mood about the clubs prospects for the coming season:
"It was quite funny because during the game Cesc and I were smiling at each other because we liked the fact that we were playing so well. Everyone was smiling during the game. If we play the same way or even less, we will have a big chance at least to fight for the title" he said at the time.
It was a difficult period for the club following the departure of Henry and an acrimonious boardroom split resulting in Dein going. Yet the season confounded many with Arsenal challenging for a good two thirds of the season for a title they perhaps should have won. Curiously Henry`s departure seemed, in part, to help create a positive atmosphere and a team bond that they carried into that season.
By contrast it never really happened for us last season. A pre-season schedule that didn`t include Cesc, van Persie, Eduardo, Rosicky or Toure gave its own problems but psychologically the team wasn`t in the right place either. Wenger admitted as much later in the season as he reflected on what went wrong "I perhaps made the mistake of underestimating the ill-fated effects of last season and notably the loss of the title" he explained. In between, the fall out culminating in the removal of Gallas as club captain was both a cause and a consequence of the lack of positive atmosphere at the club at the time.
This theme of confidence was something that Wenger returned to at a shareholders meeting after the season`s end. "We have had negative vibes around the team. It is very hard work to keep the confidence and energy demands because we had to support the team against the odds."
That confidence plays a key role in any sporting triumph is not in any serious doubt but controlling or influencing that confidence is less straightforward. Some players are naturally confident. To the extent of arrogance in some but while self confidence is one thing confidence in those around you in a team game is another. It depends on someone or something reinforcing that confidence in your mind and of those of your team mates - especially the younger ones.
Speaking again more recently Robin van Persie gave some insight into how Wenger goes about the task on matchdays. "Wenger is interested in other sports, other leaders. In his team talk before a match he'll always quote someone new, Obama one time, basketball star Michael Jordan the next, then tennis player Justine Henin." It`s a cerebral approach to an event that more often has stereotypical images of flying tea cups and hairdryers associated with it. But it works if the audience is in the right frame of mind.
That frame of mind though is to a large extent affected by factors not solely to do with team itself. Part of the problem that Wenger has is in controlling the negative vibes he referred to which made his job so much harder this season. Undoubtedly the clubs failure to sign a player, having to some extent raised those expectations themselves, contributed to the negative atmosphere of last season which really took hold when early season results seemed to confirm fans worst fears. For Wenger to avoid the difficulties of dealing with the negativity that he has complained of next season the club needs to handle this summer better than last.
So far things do seem a little different this time around. There is more of an air of 'taking care of business' about the place than the perceived stumbling and prevarication of last season. An early signing, a positive indicator, has already been made following on from the capture of Arshavin a few months back. The boardroom seems in better shape with Gazidis and Kroenke adding a more professional air to the gentlemen`s club atmosphere of the past. A factor Wenger acknowledged a few days ago.
"We are starting to notice the differences he [Gazidis] is making at the club," said Wenger. "Everyone with a big responsibility like that has a different personality which they bring to the job, and he is making a few changes."
Controlling those negative vibes doesn`t sit solely on Wenger`s shoulders as it did last year.
Though another signing might still be anticipated, even if there aren`t any then provided there aren`t any high profile departures the club might expect to go into the next season with more positivity than last. If a senior player is to leave this summer then the club seems to be managing the process with less protracted angst and greater control than surrounded the departure of Flamini and the courting of Adebayor. The structure of the club around Wenger looks stronger and the team should benefit greatly from that. Maybe the club has come to realise that dispelling last season`s negative vibes does demand positive action.
Seeing a few more smiles on players` faces such as Robin and Cesc shared a couple of seasons back will tell us if we are going the right way.
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