A major headline of the last weekend opening matches of the 2015/2016 English Premier League [EPL] was the shocking defeat of Arsenal, one of the tipped title contenders/hopefuls, by a relatively lowly-rated West Ham United! Nobody expected that defeat, talk less of the goal margin of 0-2 – at Arsenal’s home ground, The Emirates, for that matter! How are the mighty fallen! Arsenal’s fans, all over the world, including yours sincerely, are still in shock and utterly disappointed at the unexpected result.
However, going forward, the defeat must be seen as a learning curve, with some useful lessons to learn by Arsenal as a team and all of us as individuals.
Lesson 1: The need for change
“It is insanity to keep doing things the same way and expect a different outcome.” When you keep doing things the same way, over time, you will keep getting the same result. In order to get a different and better result, you have to do things differently. This implies that you have to change your way of doing things, by changing your orientation, mentality, thinking, mindset, perspective, philosophy, strategy, system, process, method, attitude, habit, culture, concept, style, tactics, etc.
The notion of change is to achieve a breakthrough, by breaking new grounds and bringing about new horizons and new frontiers. Simply put, the idea of change is to learn, imbibe, introduce and adopt new order of things and to unlearn, discontinue and discard the old order of things. And for Arsenal, particularly the coach, Arsene Wenger, the philosophy and culture of dominating ball possession and at the end losing a match should be critically reviewed and possibly discarded. Of what use is playing a free-flowing, ‘tiky-taka’, ‘pretty’ football and yet end up losing a match? It is quite annoying, frustrating and disappointing, most especially to the fans. Dominating ball possession and not getting result has been a familiar story and, indeed, the bane of Arsenal’s trophy-less position in the EPL for the past 11 years! This has to change. Consequently, Arsenal, and particularly coach Wenger, must be prepared to change its tactics and style of football, even if it means jettisoning the fluid, eye-catching ball possession style of football it has been known for over the years in favour of a more aggressive, defensive, and even ‘dirty’, but functional style of football that will produce the results and win matches and laurels.
Lesson 2: Never be over-confident or underrate your opponent
While you must be self-confident and self-assured to succeed in any endeavour, you must avoid being over-confident, self-conceited or underrating the strength of your opponent, as this may boomerang. After the victory over Chelsea in the community shield cup, Arsenal seemed complacent and over-confident, believing that after beating Chelsea, the defending champions and major title contender for the league, all other ‘lesser’ teams [opponents] in the EPL will be a walkover! Consequently, Arsenal under-estimated West Ham, a team that has not beaten them in the last eight years, and paid dearly for it. Remember the story of David and Goliath in the Holy Bible. According to the scriptures, “The race is not for the swift, neither is the battle for the strong.” So, when you underrate your opponent, you do so at your own peril!
Lesson 3: Always allow time for a new team member to settle in
One of the fundamental management principles of effective team-building and efficient teamwork, in order to enhance team synergy, is to always allow time for a new team member to learn and imbibe the philosophy, style, culture, orientation and other nuances of the team, so as to seamlessly align with the team’s way of doing things. The arrival of Petr Cech from Chelsea came with high expectations as it was seen by many football pundits and Arsenal fans as a formidable “breakthrough signing” that would herald a stronger defence line and winning mentality for the Arsenal team. It would, however, appear that the new goalkeeper, Petr Cech, who had just joined the team less than four weeks before the match, was not allowed enough time to settle in and blend with the team’s tactics and style of play before being thrust into the fray! I believe that the new goalkeeper should have been allowed enough time to bond with other members of the team in order to blend with Arsenal’s unique style of play.
Lesson 4: Mistake could be costly
A mistake by one member of the team could have a domino effect on the entire team. The two goals against Arsenal that cost them the match were as a result of avoidable mistakes by just one member of the team, the goalkeeper Petr Cech. The two errors committed by Cech [which I personally consider the result of an unnecessary exuberance to impress the Arsenal fans at the Emirates for the first time in the league] proved costly to the team and, doubtlessly, had an adverse effect on the outcome of the match resulting! Undoubtedly, Petr Cech had a bad day on his first day in office!
However, this is not to say that Cech should be singled out for criticism and solely castigated for the mistakes. It should be a collective responsibility by the entire team and coaching crew. This is why I wish to commend Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger, for refusing to single out the goalkeeper for criticism or to lay the blame for the loss solely on Cech. A good leader, as Wenger has rightly demonstrated, while recognizing the mistakes by his team, should not be despaired or discouraged nor wallow in pity party, finger pointing or blame game, but rather see it as part of the price to pay for success and move forward by not thinking of what happened in the past. A leader should see mistake or failure as a learning curve, believing that there is always something new to learn and some positives that can be taken out and improved upon, in order to facilitate a better future performance. A leader should never allow mistakes to destroy his team confidence.
And for Cech, it must be realized that almost everything we do in life for the first time is done poorly or less than perfect. His mistakes, in my view, do not in any way diminish his stature and prowess as one of the best goalkeepers in the world of football today. As an experienced goalkeeper, Cech should not allow the mistakes to adversely affect his confidence, mentality, psychological disposition and future performance in subsequent matches. The best of people [and the best of goalkeepers] make mistakes but what is important is learning from such mistakes and applying the knowledge gained for the future.
All said, Arsenal as a team must learn from its past mistakes, learn to live in the present, re-strategize and look forward to the future with renewed hope and expectation. Going forward, Arsenal will need to summon the much-needed confidence to recover from the shock of the defeat and cautiously bounce back to winning ways by responding appropriately in subsequent matches in order to effectively redeem their title hopes.
Oluwa, a football enthusiast and an Arsenal fan, wrote in from The Executive Business School, Lagos.