the curse of November, Arsene.
Arsene knows. He knows not to champion his side as contenders for the title on the eve of the calendar’s most cruel month.
For there is something about November that makes Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger very nervous.Indeed, rather than accept the plaudits as the Gunners sat momentarily top following Saturday’s 4-1 win at Sunderland, he was guarded, instead pointing to the pitfalls of a month which ranks as the worst of his 20 years in charge.
And here is why, a points-per-game ratio of just 1.59. It is the month where questions are asked of his management and, invariably, his future. Compare that to 2.18 points per game in March, the month where, in recent seasons, Arsenal have made a belated bid for the top.
The November goal difference also tells its own story – plus 32 compared to a massive plus 109 in April.So what does go wrong when the clocks go back?Twelve months ago they had won five on the spin in the Premier League before a November which opened with a 5-1 drubbing at Bayern Munich and was followed by a fortunate home draw against Spurs, defeat at West Brom and a draw away to Norwich.
A month which had started with talk of the title ended with calls for the Frenchman to go.
Go back two years, even. And, after back-to-back defeats to Swansea and Manchester United, one banner inside the Emirates Stadium read: ‘Enough is enough. Wenger out’.
Three years ago? Again, a 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford in which the only goal was scored by his former captain and striker Robin van Persie.Let’s go back to 2012, this one was particularly nasty. On November 3, again at Old Trafford, Arsenal lost 2-1. Who scored the opener in his first appearance against his old club? Yes, Van Persie. Worst of all, however, was the ‘vile and unfunny abuse’ – as Sportsmail put it – to which Wenger was subject throughout the game. They went on to drop six more points with draws against Fulham, Aston Villa and Everton.There are more. Consecutive home defeats to Newcastle and Spurs in 2010 again saw Wenger ridiculed.
What about his first November at the Highbury helm?
It will come as no surprise to learn that, on November 16, a Nigel Winterburn own goal condemned them to a 1-0 defeat at Manchester United. There was also a 4-2 drubbing at Liverpool in the League Cup.
So when, as October closes, it is put to him that his team are looking better than ever, he is right to sound caution.’I believe we are more mature than previous seasons, yes, but that’s what we want to show over a longer distance, and that’s what is at stake,’ he said.
‘We now have a difficult November. By the end of the November we’ll know more about ourselves.’
So what of this November? Yes, you guessed it, a trip to Manchester United. How Jose Mourinho would love to kill all this talk of a new-look Arsenal and prove they – and Wenger – are as fragile and flaky as ever.
Before then, however, there is next Sunday’s North London derby at the Emirates, a home fixture Arsenal have not won in the Premier League since 2013.the rest of us ready our sparklers ahead of Bonfire Night, Arsenal’s early-season promise fizzles out?
We should perhaps look no further than climate and conditions. November, of course, is the month where the mercury plummets, the winds start to howl and a crisp autumn begins to make way for a wet winter.
In short, Arsenal are a bit soft. It is an accusation long since levelled at Wenger’s side – The Invincibles apart, of course – and the manager’s failure to add steel to the middle of the park has cost them over the course of a campaign, most notably in the months of November and January (1.89 points per game).
Wenger, though, senses a change in resolve amidst his ranks, evidenced by Saturday’s three-goal blitz of Sunderland with the score at 1-1 entering the final quarter of the game.It took just six minutes and 20 seconds for substitute Olivier Giroud to score twice and Alexis Sanchez to net his second of the afternoon.And Wenger said: ‘Yes (maybe we would have drawn or lost that match in recent seasons).
‘Sunderland felt that they had done the most difficult thing in getting back to 1-1, that at least they’d get a point.
‘But they were surprised by the strength of our push again. The desire and the mentality is great in the side. We have a great togetherness and we have quality as well, so they are good ingredients, but we have to show that we can do it week in, week out.’
Week in, week out. Month in, month out. They must start by negotiating nervous November.
the curse of November, Arsene.