Smells Like Team Spirit

Everton v Arsenal

With a few days off following Arsenal’s convincing win at Everton and more fortuitous, yet still deserved, victory at Celtic, talk has turned to the renewed spirit within the team. Quotes following both matches from players regarding the spirit of the team abound and here are just a few snippets:

Robin van Persie:

I think we showed in both that we really want to fight for each other….”

Manuel Almunia:

…we have a better relationship with each other and, if the dressing room works, then, on the pitch, the team works as well. It’s something that is right. Everybody comes into the dressing room with a better mood. It’s crucial to have a good relationship with each other. It’s true that this season, at the moment, we don’t have any trouble or any problems inside and we appreciate that.

At Members’ Day, during the Members’ Q& A session, Cesc said:

We all like each other. We all have a great connection…

Of course, we have listened to Arsene Wenger talk about the spirit of the team in every post-match interview and press conference for the last two or three years. But he was speaking about the spirit on the pitch. The spirit in the dressing room is just as important.

William Gallas 2However, our spirit on the pitch was not always good either. We all know that Emmanuel Adebayor had his own ego problems, his problems with the supporters, but also, most detrimentally, his problems with Nicklas Bendtner. I think many of us tried to dismiss or, at least, downplay the incident at the time but in retrospect it was horrible. Also, the full effects of that relationship were not always seen on the pitch because Adebayor and Bendtner rarely played at the same time.

On the other hand, the problems between Gallas and Toure manifested itself on the pitch on an almost weekly basis. It’s hard to know what was really going on as Arsene tries his best to keep this stuff out of the public eye. Toure finished last season strong and his partnership with Gallas was as good as it had ever been but that could have been only because, despite rescinding his transfer request, Toure had already made his mind up in January that he was leaving.

Cesc Fabregas 3

Perhaps after his long spell, Toure had become complacent or burned out on  Arsenal. We should all remember that Toure was never a true center-back. He came to the club as a midfielder and his work rate and determination sometimes masked his lack of understanding of the position. Too many times were Arsenal left with a huge gap between Toure and Gallas that constantly made us vulnerable to route-one football. I tended to want to blame Gallas but seeing his performances now with a true center-back in Vermaelen has me realizing that it was perhaps more Toure’s fault. I’m not taking a jab at Toure, it is a legitimate criticism.

It seems obvious that the players are glad to be rid of the tension they had been living with in the dressing room. Cesc said that he had no problems with either Adebayor or Toure leaving because he only wants players who are willing to fight for the club. If your mind is elsewhere or focused on other things, you cannot give 100% to the club on the pitch and you affect everyone else in the team. We have seen great spirit on the pitch in these first two matches and it seems the players are also letting us know that the spirit and togetherness is back in the locker room in a way it hasn’t been since the early to middle part of the 2007-08 season. And that can only be a good thing.