Revealed: The lessons title-chasing Arsenal have learned to avoid another late-season collapse

Comments (0)
Arsenal Neville GFX
Gary Neville is among those who believe that the Gunners will crumble under the pressure in the title race - but is that really on the cards?

“Arsenal will start to panic a little bit, the anxiety will kick in, pressure builds." Those were the words of Gary Neville who, not for the first time in recent weeks, was detailing the reasons why he still believes Mikel Arteta’s side will fall short this season as they hunt the club’s first Premier League title since 2004.

“They have struggled in latter parts of seasons, with last season the most recent example,” the former Manchester United captain continued. “This is why Manchester City will win the Premier League.”

Neville is not alone with those thoughts. In fact, the majority of pundits and high-profile former players working in the media seem to feel like it will be City who ultimately get their hands on the Premier League trophy in May.

There is an expectation that Arsenal’s inexperience will catch up with them, that they will fall away when the pressure really starts to build during the final weeks of the season. 

But one place where you will hear no such suggestion is at Arsenal itself. Not from Mikel Arteta, not from his coaching staff and certainly not from the players.

They truly believe they can win the title, and instead of fearing a repeat of last season’s late collapse, they are instead using it as motivation.

  1. “The scars of last year”
    (C)Getty Images

    “The scars of last year”

    It’s about learning lessons, as Aaron Ramsdale explained following Wednesday night’s 4-0 win against Everton.

    “I think what’s driving us on is the scars of last year,” the goalkeeper said, while shedding some light on what life is like behind the scenes at Arsenal right now.

    “No one has forgotten about what happened. It hurt a lot, especially as it was to the other lot down the road (Tottenham), which made it even worse for our fans and for us. So that’s obviously a big driving force in this team.

    “There were times last year we dipped under our levels, didn't do what we had practised or what we had done all season, so it was a big lesson for us and we are just taking it into each game at the minute.

    “It is just knowing we have to trust our process, trust our basics, knowing that if we do nine out of 10, 10 out of 10 then we should get results. If we don't, at least we can say we have done everything we can.”

    After a near faultless first half of the season, Arsenal endured their first real wobble last month when they went three league games without a win.

    That run culminated with a 3-1 home defeat by Manchester City, one that saw Arteta’s young side knocked off top spot in the table for the first time since the third week of season.

    Many predicted that would be the moment that their title challenge would crumble and that City would pull away. But Arsenal have won three games in a row since then, including their all important game in hand, restoring a five-point lead within the blink of an eye.

  2. Pressure? What pressure?
    Getty Images

    Pressure? What pressure?

    Again, it’s about learning from previous experience.

    Maybe last season that loss of form would have ended their hopes, but this team is different - as they have proved time and time again over the course of the current campaign.

    There is a fearlessness about Arsenal this season that makes a mockery of the position they are in. If they are feeling any pressure, they are certainly not showing it.

    The mood now is exactly as it was ahead of the opening game at Crystal Palace in August. It’s just a group of mates, going out to enjoy themselves every weekend.

    “Not a lot of us have been here before,” Ramsdale said. “We don’t really know how to handle it. So we’re just going in and playing the games as if we were 10th, 12th, whatever. 

    “We’re just going out to play with our group of team-mates and try and win as many games as possible. We’re relishing it.”

  3. The January transfer window

    The January transfer window

    Arsenal’s business in the January transfer window should also give them a far better chance of avoiding an end-of-season collapse this time around.

    Last January, they opted not to strengthen their squad, even after letting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leave for Barcelona. They felt like they had enough to get them through to the end of the campaign, but it was ultimately a gamble that backfired. 

    The goals dried up, injuries started to hit and the squad just wasn’t strong enough to cope over the closing weeks of the season.

    But this January they did all they could to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. Proven Premier League quality was added with Leandro Trossard and Jorginho coming in from Brighton and Chelsea, respectively, while Jakub Kiwior was signed from Spezia to bolster the defensive options.

    While the latter is still yet to make an appearance, Trossard and Jorginho have already made major impacts during their short time at the club, and have undoubtedly strengthened Arteta’s hand ahead of the run-in.

    Arsenal have options now, a number of them. That’s something they didn’t have last season, and it cost them dear.

  4. Winners have been added

    Winners have been added

    And while a number of the squad are young and inexperienced, winners have been added to it. 

    Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko are multiple title winners, while Jorginho has won the Champions League and Euro 2020 in recent years. That experience should prove vital as the pressure starts to increase.

    And it’s not like pressure is anything new to the rest of the squad. Ramsdale, for example, has been involved in relegation scraps with Bournemouth and Sheffield United. That might be a different type of pressure, but it’s pressure nonetheless.

    “I wouldn’t say this is easy, but it’s definitely a pressure which is so much nicer to have than the opposite side,” Arsenal’s goalkeeper said, when asked which situation was easier to deal with.

    “Obviously I want to win every single game and do well, but it’s not the be all and end all at the minute. Of course, if we get to four, five games to go and we are still in the same position, that’ll definitely change. But for now, it’s just playing with a group of my mates and enjoying it.”

  5. The Saka factor
    Getty Images

    The Saka factor

    Arsenal also have the small factor of a better and more mature Bukayo Saka to help try and get them over the line this season.

    Ramsdale’s England international team-mate has now scored 10 league goals, with his superb strike which broke the deadlock against Everton on Wednesday taking him into double figures.

    He also has nine assists, which means only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane have more direct goal involvements than the 21-year-old this season.

    No-one knows better than Ramsdale the talent that Saka possesses, and Arsenal’s goalkeeper believes the winger has to be in the running for the league’s player of the year award.

    “I think Bukayo has probably been up there in the top three players of the season, quite easily,” said the Gunners’ keeper. “He has got more mature, stronger. He is getting better and better every day and this is just another normal process for him."

    Arsenal now have 13 games to go, starting with Saturday’s home game against struggling Bournemouth. Will they crumble, as Neville believes they will? Only time will tell.

    But the painful lessons they have learned from last season should put them in a far better place to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself this time around.