Much has been said of the huge damage done by Birmingham’s victory over Arsenal in the Carling Cup finals. With it went a golden opportunity to end a six year trophy drought. But the loss did more than failing to lift that monkey off the back, it was a momentum killer. The nature of that loss did everything to further the Gunners “Born under a bad sign” reputation.
One way to look at it is through scoring and in the matches leading up to the final there was no problems getting goals. If one breaks the 30 matches played so far chunking them into sets of three and graph the goals for and against Arsenal we see obvious fluctuations but the trend is an overall healthy scoring record despite giving up some atrocious goals.
This came to a screeching halt after Feb 27th with the only exception, a 5-0 result against Orient. We lost to Barca, 1-3 not unexpectedly and we swallowed a 0-2 loss to Man Utd in the FA Cup. But it is the Premiership which we now heavily invest as the only viable title left where most damage has been wrought. In the three matches, Arsenal have scored just two goals and garnered 2 points for its leanest spell. We have to go back to weeks 10 through 12 to come up with comparable scoring but we managed 6 points despite losing the Newcastle game.
The meme that Arsenal could come up with the quadruple (in hindsight this is Wenger’s moment of irrational exuberance) was built around the Barca win at the Emirates and the upcoming Birmingham final. It followed a series of matches just before the Feb 27th date at Wembley when the club reeled of 15 goals for 16 points. The only blemish was the Newcastle implosion but the club was able to reconnoiter that slippery slope by winning the subsequent matches against Wolves and Stoke. “Gritty”and “mental strength” was how it was described. It must have been a giddy high.
The response after the Birmingham disaster has been three desultory draws against relegation fighting teams who have been handily beaten in their recent matches (save WBA). The scoring malaise might be attributed to a set of tactical decisions undertaken by the team and its opponents but the graph clearly shows the robust goal scoring trendlines prior to this period. The more obvious conclusion is a crisis in confidence. Even Wenger has been forced to comment on the team lacking energy.
It is not unreasonable to assume in the wake of the Carling Cup loss, a number of players quietly believe no matter what, Arsenal will always be blindsided (its always something or other). Wenger can make tactical adjustments but his main concern will be to pull his squad back from believing that the only thing left is counting the days till the season is over.