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Last issue I highlighted the importance of keeping the key players in Arsenal’s recent decent run of results fit and selected for duty. The names were, in no particular order: Song, Wilshere, Fabregas, Djourou, Nasri, Van Persie, Sagna, Walcott and Szczesny. The last match the Gunners played as I write was the 4-4 draw away to Newcastle. Significantly, with Djourou’s removal, Arsenal only had six of these players on the field, and collapse followed. Naturally the reduction to ten men courtesy of Abou Diaby’s moment of madness also played its part. It was a freak result in terms of the combination of factors that led to the concession of a four goal lead. There were obviously some decisions by Phil Dowd that were rightly scrutinised, but the fact that the Koscielny – Squillaci partnership had to be re-formed meant that jitters at the back (especially without Song in front to help with protection) were exploited by Newcastle. Possession-wise, the team went to pieces, which is not a given with a ten man Arsenal team. The need to utilise the so out-of-form it beggars belief Tomas Rosicky was almost like giving the home side an extra player (as if they did not already have a twelfth man in the referee), and this, surely, will never happen again. His performance was so bad it is difficult to imagine even Arsène Wenger giving the Czech any further game time. I hoped afterwards that this wasn’t a Birmingham 2008 moment in the season. I didn’t want momentum halted through poor play at the back, and the team going off the rails again. Yet, typical of this season, a surprise was thrown up later in the day with the defeat of Manchester United at Wolves, and the Gunners actually found themselves in a better position than they had started the day. By the time anyone reads this, the team will have faced Wolves at home and the result of that will tell us a lot about whether or not they can put St James’ Park behind them. What I cannot get my head around is the manager’s constant use of the term ‘mental strength’ when describing his players, when certain results this season and indeed ever since that game in Birmingham three years ago have demonstrated anything but. Have the team become more resilient and able to bounce back through experiencing so many bad reverses? The question will be answered very soon (if not already at the Wolves game). The evidence suggests that what is actually needed is a different type of character in the dressing room. Still, there is hope. At a recent home game (against Ipswich if I recall correctly), I saw Cesc


Fabregas balling out Eboue and apparently Jack Wilshere did similar to Andrey Arshavin. Wojciech Szczesny is certainly not shy in letting his teammates know when they haven’t got it right, so possibly the characters are there, they just haven’t really felt established enough to start giving it large (Fabregas excepted, and maybe he’s just reached the end of his tether with certain of his team-mates after seeing the same errors constantly repeated). Certainly, unless there are going to be wholesale changes this summer (and can you see the manager doing that?) it’s really down to this group of players to prove that they have grown up as a team and have learned to react to adversity and not underperform for the next four matches. Manchester United lost 5-0 at Newcastle in 1996 but went on to win the title during Wenger’s first year at Highbury. In a normal season, Arsenal would be some distance behind the leaders, but for some reason, the current campaign has overthrown all expectations about the top teams. Any of them are seemingly vulnerable. If the Gunners can start winning again and winning as a matter of course, the 4-4 and some other pretty damning concessions of leads can be consigned to bad days at the office by the end of May. Other teams have done it; so can we. For me, the winning of the Carling Cup at Wembley is a key part in the process of ensuring the momentum built up since early December is continued. The weaker performances