No question it is a difficult time to be an Arsenal supporter. Things are not easy. There are a number of problems.
We are under-achieving. This was to be our year. We were settled – funds at our disposal, just signed a top keeper and the season beckoned. But we have fallen short. Premature to say that but you know what I mean. It would be wonderful to put in a run and nick the title at the end of an unbeaten run but it is unlikely. Hope springs eternal and all that and we will be hoping the goals go in tomorrow and that Leicester and THFC stumble but the odds are against it. If of course things go our way then we will be full of joy and Wenger will be a hero but winning at Anfield in ’89 with that last minute goal by Mickey Thomas used up our quota of miracles. So it is more likely we will be in post-mortem mood than celebratory mood.
THFC have done well – very well and their success has heightened the tensions within our camp. They play good football; they have put together a team with a good English spine; their manager has downed the Spurs doubters, kept his confidence and produced a team that is praised by many football independents. The “English” rankles because deep down whilst we extol the virtues of the foreign contingent we also would like a team that has a strong English character. We are English. We support England. We want them to do well in the European Championship and World Cup and we were pleased to see that picture of Walcott, Oxlade-C, Gibbs and Jenkinson (Ramsey too) and yet we are struggling to get any of our players in the national team.
Another factor is the high price of supporting Arsenal. To an extent we are customers. We are far from the only source of income but we matter and having the Emirates full and noisy is so important. We need to be stroked and loved and cherished and not just tolerated and the Club – who I concede have taken steps to strengthen links with the fans through meetings and consultations – need to be more aggressive in showing understanding and gratitude to fans who really dig deep to come to a game.
The players should do much more. Some of them make a point of applauding the fans but too many slink off to the dressing room at the end of a match. This should not be left to individual decision – this should be part of the make-up for each player. Wenger should be there on the pitch blocking their way and sending them straight back to applaud the fans. It is a part of the “selling”. We respond to the players positively if they respond to us. We disrespect them if they are off hand and cavalier and take us for granted. I do not take the “exhaustion” argument and the need for rest. They are paid the most enormous sums of money and should remember that they are supported by fans that pay the highest ticket prices. Humility is needed – as I said we need to be acknowledged, appreciated and esteemed. A little goes a long way. Bertie Mee told players – “Remember Who You Are and Who You Represent”. We are Arsenal. We have history. Today’s players follow in the footsteps of past heroes – James, Bastin, Drake, Rooke, Mercer, Bowen, Vic Groves, Armstrong and Rocastle. Go the extra mile every time and strengthen the bond with the supporters.
We have a non-communicating Chairman. Now it may be said that his job is to run the show and leave the passion and the commitment to the fans but for years we had the double-barrelled chairmen – the Hill-Woods and the Bracewell-Smiths. They were always there, never missing a match. Maybe they were upper crust and this was the era of Master and Servant but they were Arsenal through and through. The passion was there. We need Kroenke to find a way to link in with the supporters and to show his enthusiasm for Arsenal FC. Of course football has changed. It is a big money game but all the more reason why steps should be taken to build the relationship with us all. Not difficult to do.
When things are not going well on the pitch then the focus is on all the discontents. They mount up. They create strong frustration. They make for an unhappy family and now – if we do fall short this season – the recriminations and the antagonism will revive and we will have more discord than accord – more disunity than unity – more anger then laughter. It is saying the obvious but this is a results driven activity. Winning is what counts and when we return to winning ways – as I believe we will – the tensions and the anger will be soothed away and the cheers and the smiles will return
The solution for some is to sack the manager. That is a view that is gathering pace. We have the banners; we have the growing anger on social media and if and when the title is beyond our grasp the discontent will become ugly. This article is not the occasion to debate the strengths and weaknesses of Wenger. My position has been clear and is unchanged. I rate him highly; I hope he continues as I believe in him. I know that many take a different view and think the time has come to make a change. The pundits set the tone of the debate – every after-match summary stokes up feelings for and against. But they are pundits who from the comfort of the studio sofa and without any responsibility can pontificate. But when you listen to their words also examine their managerial record – Shearer, Lawrenson, Souness, Hoddle and now the best of all the pundits – the one who speaks the most sense has just been sacked for under-achievement. If Neville can’t do it why place so much confidence in the comments and summaries of any of them.
Cliche I know but you need to be strong in the storm. That image of the Captain of the ship – strong and resolute – as the angry waves and buffeting winds stir the growing storm comes to mind. Wenger has to be strong. His stubbornness will assist him. He is ramrod straight and unbending. He will be able to confront his critics and remain in charge of the dressing room but he needs to get it right. It is not for me to tell him to spend the money. I am just another fan. I know nothing of coaching or management. He is Arsenal through and through and I continue to believe in him. But we are heading for a storm ourselves. There is a growing sense of civil war. Back to 1649 you were either a Cavalier or a Roundhead. Today you are either pro or anti Wenger and we have to brace ourselves for antagonisms.
This is not new – new to us but it is football and Arsenal football. Tom Whittaker lost the supporters when he signed Nutt and Tiddy in 1955; Jack Crayston never recovered from the Third Round Cup defeat at Northampton Town in 1958; George Swindin started well but was eclipsed by the success of the Spurs Double Team and poor Billy Wright was out of his depth after a home crowd of 4,500 in 1966. Football is about ups and down and our down is quite relative – always at or near the top but never ending up on top, the bridesmaid not the bride. We will come through it, we always do. History tells us that but for the present things may be unsettled. Keep your temper – stick to your principles as the challenges mount.
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