Arsene Wenger’s pre-match press conferences are nearly always good for a soundbite or two but there was one especially interesting vignette that emerged when the boss spoke to the media ahead of the Gunners’ Champions League clash with FC Basel.
When asked about his side’s win over Chelsea, and the style in which it was achieved, Arsene noted: “Our game is about style and steel, and we combined both. That was pleasing. Every time it’s a new challenge but I believe the humility is to accept that you have to start from scratch again and show another performance.”
‘Style and steel’ – two words I never thought id hear from the boss, and how incredibly good it was to hear, too. A criticism that has been levelled at Arsenal teams consistently over the last 10 years has been the absence of any sort of mettle – or metal – in its makeup.
Simply put, everything thinks of Arsenal as spineless.
To that end, it was fascinating to hear Arsene openly covet a steely streak within his team, a feature of the game that he has so often sacrificed in order to achieve the sort of attacking freedom he dearly loves in his teams.
Has the Frenchman had a summer epiphany?
Has the need to instil back into the team a sort of Patrick Vieira-level of nastiness become inescapable?
I, for one, certainly hope so.
I wrote early in the season about Granit Xhaka and the reputation for indiscipline that followed him to the club, and how that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, particularly in the all important winter months, when our title challenge typically falters.
It has been a good long while since teams have feared to mix it with an Arsenal side physically, at least not since the infamous Battle of the Buffet at Old Trafford, so hopefully that is in the process of changing.
The way in which, as a team, dominated Chelsea’s Diego Costa on and off the ball on Saturday was a joy to watch and is a template for how we should approach the biggest, most important of our fixtures this season and in the future.
I’m almost certain the collective bullying meted out to Costa was part of a well-constructed team plan, agreed well in advance of Saturday’s clash, and I hope to see plenty more of the same in the weeks ahead.
That’s not to say we should become a band of square-jawed thugs, but we should at last seek to shake-off the ‘soft underbelly’ tag that has followed us around for too long.
To that end, it was great to hear Arsene acknowledge what a bit of steel brought to the Chelsea game and I hope this is the start of a new, more resilient, more durable Arsenal. A team capable of rising to the rigours of February and March, and coming out the other side with a title challenge still in tact.
The first game of the rest of our season starts tonight against the Swiss champions. If we can avoid slipping into the old complacent ruts of seasons past, we can begin to really build some momentum as this season gets under way.