Archive for August, 2016

This is the third blog looking at Arsenal from a scientific angle. Following Schrödinger’s Arsenal and Wenger’s Room I felt compelled to add a third for a trilogy of entries, those that know me well will know why.

After having tackled Schrödinger’s Cat and Mary’s Room, I scoured for another theory or thought experiment that could be applied to Arsenal when I stumbled upon a psychological theory that was very intriguing and thought-provoking.

The theory I encountered was the Yerkes-Dodson Law. This theory, in layman’s terms, states that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal (stress). Very simply put, at a certain level of induced stress, people perform better. But if stress goes well beyond this level, performance decreases. So it’s all about finding that sweet spot to achieve optimal performance.

The theory is often times better shared using the following illustration:

stress

Now, when performing intellectually demanding tasks, the level of arousal doesn’t need to be high to achieve peak performance, as the lower level of stress will allow for better concentration. For physically demanding tasks, a much higher level of stress is needed to hit peak performance.

So, how can we apply this to Arsenal?

Having followed the club we all know that Wenger is a man that coddle his athletes quite a bit. Time and again we see the likes of Rambo, Theo and many, many more, continue to get chance after chance after poor displays or less than stellar runs. We see the squad, quite often, start off matches in a surprisingly docile manner, with a lack of urgency which leads to comments like, “Same old Arsenal starting slow. Well, we’ll get going in the second half.”, etc. How many times during a season do you find yourself saying, “Where’s the urgency with this team?!” My suggestion is that the squad, at those times, doesn’t find itself stressed enough to hit peak performance.

On a player level, places are pretty much guaranteed as there are limited bodies – regardless of performance, there is little threat of losing one’s starting position. Even if wanting to make a change, depth of quality is limited at many positions, but we’ll leave that aside for now. The calmness some often praise Wenger for could actually lead to a lower stress level which would be detrimental to achieving optimal performance levels in athletes. Of course, as stated earlier on, you don’t want to go beyond that sweet spot of arousal or you end up with a decrease in performance, much like we saw last year with Mourinho and Chelsea.

What’s the sweet spot for Arsenal? How is it achievable on a constant basis? We can all agree that it won’t be the same for all players. Some will have a higher tolerance for anxiety than others. That’s where man-management comes in. This is where I believe, more than anywhere else, Wenger has lost the edge. In the past, when he wasn’t able to get the best out of X or Y player, he had leaders (Keown, Adams, etc.) that could certainly up that stress level and increase that urgency to get the best out of those players. This current team has a lack of leaders so Wenger doesn’t have that luxury anymore and hasn’t for quite some time.

Now, I’m not saying Wenger needs to be like Conte or Simeone on the sidelines or throw boots about in the dressing room like Fergie, although many of us wish he would adopt SOME or MOST of those methods from time to time. But he HAS to be more ruthless and instill a sense of urgency in this team. He needs to bring in quality bodies to ensure no player is comfortable in their position, ever. If you don’t perform, you ride the bench until you show you can, or until your replacement doesn’t perform. This would create the right level of stress for the squad to fulfill their potential. We’ve seen this squad start slow, uninterested and without urgency far too often for a top team.

In the end, the majority of supporters want Wenger to find the balance he once had. Every detail matters in football, man-management is what sets apart the good teams from the great and Arsenal need Wenger to be a great man-manager again, to find those levels of stress to get the best out of the team as whole, if that means hurting some feelings along the way, and that’s okay.

Up the Arsenal!