Arsenal can't fall for inevitable 'bottlejobs' talk in title race

  • Arsenal can't fall for the inevitable talk about being so-called "bottlejobs" if they stumble against Manchester City and in the Premier League title race.
Manchester City v Arsenal - The FA Community Shield
Manchester City v Arsenal - The FA Community Shield / Visionhaus/GettyImages

Arsenal can't fall for the same old talk about being bottle-jobs if they lose at Manchester City on Sunday and begin to falter in the Premier League title race. One result can't, won't and shouldn't define the Gunners' march to the trophy.

Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Roy Keane must be getting nervous and excited all at once right now. The ex-Manchester United players turned pundits have another chance to play a round of their favourite game, calling Arsenal "bottlejobs."

The chance is provided by the Gunners' next fixture being away to Manchester City, their closest and strongest rivals in this season's race for the Premier League title. They'll be no disgrace in losing at the Etihad Stadium, although Mikel Arteta and Arsenal will obviously try to do anything but drop precious points.

If it happens, if Arsenal do lose to last season's treble winners, you just know it won't be long before the pundits revive the bottlejobs narrative. Maybe it won't even be a former United player. Perhaps long-time Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher leads the charge, or even one-time Spurs midfielder Jamie O'Hara.

Whoever it is, you just know it's coming. Arsenal could lose 1-0 to a controversial injury time own goal courtesy of Erling Haaland's hand, via three separate deflections, and Arteta's players will still be accused of lacking character and bottling a big game.

It won't matter City away is the toughest fixture in the league. Yes, even more daunting than a visit to Anfield. Nor will it matter this season's Gunners have already showcased their improved big-game mettle by taking four points off Liverpool and beating City at home, 1-0 in October, a worthy result from an admittedly awful game.

None of that will matter because the bottle-jobs talk is a convenient, go-to trope for many pundits who prefer to magnify Arsenal's failings. It's a holdover from the latter period of the Arsene Wenger era, but the unflattering label has stuck to the club, with damaging consequences.

Arsenal have heard all of this before

Arteta's team should already be familiar with this narrative. It was everywhere when Arsenal saw an eight-point lead in April 2023 evaporate. Draws against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton did the damage before City's 4-1 romp at the Eithad proved fatal during a historic collapse.

Those results played into a warning Keane had been only too happy to make: "This is the crunch time, when you sort the men out from the boys."

There it was again, the implication Arsenal are too small, physically and mentally to scale the heights needed to win the title. Ferdinand and Scholes soon chipped in, and it got so bad, Simon Jordan and TalkSport defended Arsenal. What a world.

The bigger issue isn't who says what and when about Arsenal. It's how the manager, his staff and players react to the talk and adapt to any setbacks on the pitch.

City result can't define Arsenal's title challenge

One result won't make or break Arsenal's title challenge, and ironically, the Gunners only need to look at United for inspiration. Not this season's United. Nothing inspiring there, but take a trip down memory lane, back to the 2007/08 season.

You remember that season, right? Sure you do. The scars are still there from seeing Eduardo Da Silva taken out and the best team Wenger had during the Emirates era ultimately finish third, just four points behind the United of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez. And even Rio and Scholesy.

That lot finished just two points ahead of Chelsea, who beat United 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on 26 April 26 2008. United lost to a direct title rival at the business end of the run-in, but still lifted the big prize. How? By not letting one setback compound into another.

United still led the table on goal difference, but it took recovering to beat West Ham and Wigan to ensure they got over the line ahead of Chelsea. That's the ticket for Arteta's men if they can't overcome City. Recover and make the most of games against Luton Town, Brighton & Hove Albion and Aston Villa.

That shouldn't be a problem for a free-scoring Arsenal team. There's also no assumption here the Gunners won't get the job done at City.

Arsenal are in form, while Arteta has shown a willingness to be pragmatic in the tougher games. There's also the not-so-small matter of City not being quite as good as last season's vintage. An inevitable consequence of replacing top-tier talents Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan with Jeremy Doku and Matheus Nunes.

The Gunners can win in Manchester, but if they don't, Arteta needs his players to shrug off disappointment quickly. Players hear the bottlejobs talk (even if they say they don't), but they can't let the chatter influence their mentality and make the bigger moments ahead in a tight title race seem too much to overcome.