With work related travel taking up a huge part of the last three weeks, I’ve been unable to post my column per my usual schedule. In a way, I count this as a blessing in disguise. It has shielded me from what has been such a toxic and painful month for Arsenal and Arsenal fans alike. The distance from social media has also allowed me to compose my thoughts on the state of affairs at our beloved club, and has given me a chance to vent out all my anger and frustration privately without endangering my endeavour to write this column in the most unbiased way possible. Let me state all my disclaimers at the very outset : I started watching Arsenal because of Arsene Wenger’s style and footballing philosophy. However, I am not an AKB (Arsene Knows Best), nor am I a WOB (Wenger Out Brigade). I support Arsenal Football Club, and want our club to thrive.
Given this premise, let us look back at what was a painful February. There was once an Emperor who announced to his kingdom that he would award anyone who could train a goat not to eat grass a thousand gold coins. Most of the people in the city tried to feed their goats so much grass that they would develop a distaste for it. There was one person who decided to take a different approach. He showed his goat nice fresh grass and every time the goat went to eat it, he hit the goat with a stick. He kept repeating this until the goat developed aversion to grass! On the day of the contest, everyone failed with their goats while this man succeeded. What does this have to do with Arsenal? Well, we fans are the goats and Arsenal is the man with the stick. Each time we begin to dream that this might finally be our year, Arsenal hammer us with a stick to remind us that we’ve been fooled again. A repetition of this practice over the past ten years has made the environment surrounding the club as toxic as I’ve ever seen it.
When Danny Welbeck headed in an injury time winner against Leicester, I really thought we had turned a page. I had never been so excited for a very long time. The only goal that comes to memory which evoked a similar response was Arshavin’s goal against Barcelona. I began building dreams that this is where we would kick on. Our injured players were returning and we would definitely be in a position to assert our dominance and close the gap. How wrong I was! If Leicester was the zenith, then the shambles of a performance we saw at Old Trafford was the nadir. A group of teenagers beat Arsenal in what can optimistically be defined as a train wreck. The irony! Arsene championed youngsters and groomed them to play in the big stage. Now, a team of teenagers (for the most part) undid his side which had several big names in it.
Right before the United game, we went in to play Barcelona with renewed optimism. The Catalans have what is considered the most formidable front three in Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Going into the game, we were given no chance and fans were bashing our own players. Until 70 minutes passed in the game, one could argue that Arsenal stood toe to toe with the best team in the world. The return of a familiar lapse in concentration after a foolish foray forward resulted in Messi converting a tap in following a great run by Neymar. If there is one moment I could erase from history, it would be the introduction of Mathieu Flamini in the Barcelona game. What an impact sub he turned out to be! Within a minute of coming on, he stuck out a leg and brought down Messi of all people. Barca doubled their lead, and put the tie to bed.
What is really hard to put a finger on is why are our players under-performing? There was a moment in the United game when Aaron Ramsey was ambling back when Arsenal had lost the ball and United were counter attacking us. That moment seemed to tell me a lot about the desire this bunch has (or doesn’t). I’m not pointing fingers, but there seems to be a complete lack of fight and desire from a bunch of players in the squad. Once again Theo Walcott was anonymous, and for all his pointing and gesturing Flamini has been a passenger in most games. Has Arsene lost the players? Or are they just bored and unwilling to fight for the team? Why do we always seem to play with the proverbial handbrake on? Will a new manager breath in fresh life into this team? Do we need to let go of some of the players and have a major overhaul in the team? I’ll leave you to figure out the answers to these questions. I have my own theories which I will share in May.
Before I close, I have a request to all our fans. We’re currently fighting against each other. There is so much hate and toxicity in the air. Yes, our team has failed spectacularly. However, there are still two months to go! So instead of shouting and hurling abuse at the players and the manager, get behind the team and support them. When they are at their lowest ebb, they need support and encouragement, not abuse and vitriol.
I agree that it’s so very boring to write about familiar failings because it happens every single year. Arsene famously said that the League title is like a marathon, not a sprint. Well once again, Arsenal have approached it like Usain Bolt and not like Mo Farah. Lets hope things change soon, and fast!