Eight years ago we enjoyed watching the best team Arsenal ever had. That team managed to win Premiership without losing single match and earned themselves the nickname Les Invincibles. It was an impressive team that put fear into our opponents. Basically, every team in England (except for Manchester United but they were going through their own transitional period) seemed like they knew they will lose against Arsenal no matter what they did or what kind of advantage they had.
Maybe the best example was a match in the 2004-05 season against Middlesbrough, the 42nd in a row without defeat, when we were 1-3 down in the opening minutes of second half. Even when the visitors scored their 3rd goal thanks to horrible positioning by Jens Lehmann, I didn’t have any doubts what will happen next – Bergkamp, Pires, Reyes and Henry made it 5-3 at the end of the match. How did I know that we will make come-back? Simple – their attitude, opponent’s attitude and quality of players on the pitch suggested Arsenal could make a come-back even from worse situations and against stronger opponents (when I think about it, Les Invincibles did make such come-back in group stage of Champions’ League against Inter Milan – after 0-3 defeat at Highbury, Arsenal won 5-1 at Meazza and got themselves better head-to-head against Italians).
That side had a killer instinct given only to the best in the sport (Michael Jordan is the best example) – if they had a chance to put seven past their opponents’ goalkeeper, they certainly did it. Against teams like that Arsenal side, you go out on the pitch waiting for kick-off with feeling like you are already losing 1-0.
However, it seems that the ability of our team disappeared at some point. Our best team since 2005 was in the 2007-08 season but, despite playing the best football in Europe, they ended four points short of winning the Premiership. Aforementioned Middlesbrough took 4 points against us while our other menace – Birmingham City – took 2 points and gave us a physical (Eduardo’s horrible injury) and psychological (we went on streak of four matches without victory) blow to our team. Against teams that are now in the Championship we won just 3 points out of a possible 12!
It wasn’t just small matches that had cost us back then – we failed to preserve 1-0 lead in away matches against both teams that finished above us – Chelsea and Manchester United. We just didn’t have what it takes to nail those two down. The team from 2010-11 is another example – that team would win mini-leagues consisted of Top 4 finishers (Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal) but they still ended 12 points behind Manchester United thanks to awful home-form, finish to the season and lack of killer instinct. Throughout the large part of that season we were contenders for the title but managed to win just two points in matches against Spurs and Newcastle despite having a 2 goal lead in both matches against Spurs and an incredible 4 goal lead at half-time against Newcastle.
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Les Invincibles would put eight past Newcastle and at least six past Spurs on those occasions. Our team last season was light years away from challenging the Manchester clubs for the title and it’s kind of disappointing to notice that we failed to record double victories against any of the relegated teams (Wolves took a point at Emirates while we got just one point in away matches against Bolton and Blackburn). It seems weaker opponents smell blood and take advantage of our weaknesses and that is not something big club should allow. The team from 2010-11 won matches at the Emirates against three of the arguably best European teams at the time (Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester United) but failed to do that against West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle, Tottenham, Liverpool, Aston Villa or Sunderland.
Now, what’s the point? Well, we are playing our next match against Norwich, a team that is heading to the Championship in the same manner Wolves did last season. They were the luckiest team last season (their frame was hit 26 times, their goalkeeper was second in the league when it comes to the number of saves made and only two teams made more clearances off the line than Norwich) but also a team that played without fear against every opponent. For instance, they were close to victory at Old Trafford and in the home match against the same opponent they lost thanks to late Giggs’ goal.
They shouldn’t be underestimated despite that they are the second team from the bottom and one of the three teams that is yet to take a victory in Premiership this season. Actually, Norwich was the team that gave us an advantage over Spurs in the Champions’ League spot pursuit with a victory at White Hart Lane 2-1 last season, the advantage that they nearly took away from us in the penultimate match of the season.
In the weird match at the Emirates that ended 3-3 our central defenders played one of the worst games and both Vermaelen and Koscielny would like to erase that match from their memory as they were all over the place and totally dominated by Grant Holt. In the away match in the first half of the season we won 2-1 with a brace from our most recent former captain and a million missed chances from Gervinho (otherwise, the Ivorian had a great game against the Canaries). Norwich lost four matches in a row and a fifth defeat would make their hopes for survival in Premiership even thinner. Snodgrass, Pilkington and Holt can make problems from open play and set-pieces so we should pay attention especially on those players. However, they did lose a lot with Paul Lambert’s departure to Aston Villa.
On the other side, we need a victory so we can keep up with Chelsea and the other contenders for the title. We need to make a statement with a second away victory in a row and the best statement would be beating Norwich by the biggest possible margin. In one of the last matches of the season, Manchester City won at Norwich 6-1 and, in the end, they won the Premiership on goal-difference. We need to become Les Convincings again, a team that makes Norwich, QPR (the team that is coming to the Emirates in Round 9), Wigan, WBA and all other clubs that used to upset us in important fixtures crap their pants before kick-off. Last season, both Manchester clubs had that advantage over their opponents. Manchester United probably didn’t have a more limited side like that one from last season in last 20 years but despite injuries they managed to stay title contenders until the last seconds of the season. Manchester City won some matches despite Mancini rested some of their best players.
What I want from Saturday’s fixture is a convincing victory like that one against Southampton. Yes, I would be happy with three points from a dull 1-0 victory as well but I want this team to show that we are not just decent lads from the neighbourhood but rather tough inglorious basterds that are capable of beating every opponent and regularly beating weaker sides. If I’m allowed to dream, I would like to see us securing victory against Norwich in the first hour of the match and then Wenger giving chances to Arshavin and Chamakh to rebuild their confidence. Cazorla is the best player in the Premiership so far but there will be times when we will need to rest him and Arshavin is the most talented player of all possible replacements for the Spanish wizard. If I were in Wenger’s situation, I would go with same line-up he used against West Ham. Gervinho’s display on the right wing against West Ham wasn’t the best around, to put it gently, but he did well in the same fixture last season and I hope he can do it again, only with more efficiency.
So, monsieur Wenger, unleash hell on the Canaries!