On Tuesday night, Arsenal snatched a 2-2 draw from Chelsea despite being down to ten men and performing abjectly for the opening half-hour. It is amazing what a little incentive can do.
Arsenal wrangled an unlikely 2-2 draw from almost certain defeat yesterday against Chelsea. One of the reasons we were able to do so was the remarkable resilience showed by the squad after David Luiz’s red card. It just goes to show what a little incentive can do.
One of the defining traits of their performance after they lost Luiz was their resilience. They were astute defensively, lightning-quick on the break, and fought tenaciously for every 50/50 ball. Their play was much improved, in fact, after they went down to ten men. It all comes down to incentive.
More from Pain in the Arsenal
- 3 standout players from 1-0 victory over Everton
- 3 positives & negatives from Goodison Park victory
- Arsenal vs PSV preview: Prediction, team news & lineups
- 3 talking points from Arsenal’s victory at Goodison Park
- Mikel Arteta provides Gabriel Martinelli injury update after Everton win
With ten men on the field, it is pressing that every individual went above and beyond their station, doing more than they ordinarily would to keep the game in check. But it is fair to question why this did not happen before the red card.
In the opening half-hour, Bukayo Saka, Granit Xhaka, and Mesut Ozil were all resoundingly poor. The young Englishman got torn apart by a class Callum Hudson-Odoi, the Swiss international only invited pressure and did very little to break the press, and the mercurial German played at a hybrid-right position that left Alexandre Lacazette stranded and frustrated up top. But that all changed once it got to ten men.
With the added incentive of desperation, each struggling player upped their individual play to rise to a level of intensity that should have existed from the beginning of the match. The desire to win came together with the biggest chance of losing. It was impressive to see, but as experienced under Unai Emery, not quite a recipe for success.
Desperation cannot be relied upon as a permanent incentive. It served its purpose on Tuesday, but not beyond that. It demonstrates a fear of losing, and a pervasive fear of losing means that there is very little potential for success. Arsenal should not be a mid-table club, scrapping for wins.
But there is something to be said for incentive. Much of what has defined Arsenal in the last few years is a sort of malaise, characterized by sluggish, unimpassioned football. They have appeared purposeless in games, and have paid the price with a series of worsening seasons while the rest of the league has accelerated by them in comparison.
But no more. We know what this Arsenal squad can do now. Under Arteta, much of the promising play comes from the conviction and drive of the players. This was the players taking responsibility for the game, working intensely hard to overcome their disadvantage, and scrapping their way to an unlikely draw.
All that must happen now is that drive, that incentive to rise above the individual level and focus on the collective, to become the standard. Because when that happens, the sky really is the limit.