Alan Smith believes mental weakness rather than a lengthy injury list is to blame for Arsenal’s recent struggles in the Premier League.
Arsenal are only two points off the top of the Premier League, but Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Norwich City completed a winless November for the Gunners on the domestic front following a defeat to West Brom and a draw against Tottenham earlier in the month.
Alexis Sanchez, Laurent Koscielny and Santi Cazorla became the latest players to pick up injuries at Carrow Road, but Smith was more concerned by the reaction of the other players on show.
Smith wrote in his Daily Telegraph column: ‘When you see the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla combining so wonderfully, exchanging passes with balletic grace, showing mesmeric footwork to sway away from defenders, it is difficult not to believe that this Arsenal side could and should challenge for the Premier League title.
‘No other team can knock the ball around like this. No one in England can enthral to the same degree. And when you ally such beauty to the fact that Arsenal’s defensive record is pretty good (only Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have conceded fewer goals), it is easy to believe that the components for success are now in place.
‘All the pieces are in place to end their title drought. What is it about the Gunners that feeds the reservations? Why do they still fall short every now and again?
‘It is worth considering that before the draw at Norwich on Sunday, Arsene Wenger’s side had lost a third of their matches this season – not a disastrous statistic by any means but not exactly encouraging, either. It points to a weakness in mentality. Victory often proves elusive when they fall below par. That flaw surfaced again at Carrow Road.
‘Wenger spoke afterwards about tiredness in his team and the fact that Norwich were stronger physically in the second half. I am not sure, however, that was the real reason for Arsenal tailing off.
‘You can talk about injuries all day. Losing so many players this way certainly doesn’t help. But when Sanchez limped off here with a sore hamstring, his team-mates seemed affected in a psychological sense more than anything else, as if losing their talisman damaged morale.
‘How else to explain the lack of direction and purpose in trying to grab a winner? If energy levels were low, so was a determination to find the breakthrough.’