This is the response to an article written by a well balanced and very reasonable man, who has an admirable streak of loyalty to friends and people with whom he attaches himself. The article contains references of Arsene Wenger`s loyalty to the club and therefore there is a kind of kindred spirit between him and Wenger.
It is a feature of Graham`s articles that the reader has opportunities to absorb his memories of Arsenal going back some 50 years. There is also in his article a rich use of quotes such as Hugh McIlvaney`s wonderful reference to George Best. It is a pleasure to read such prose. Graham suggests that reason is in a battle with no reason and he refers to Brexit as an example of no reason. Unusually for Graham he confuses the frustration of the fans, not all of whom are mindless thugs, and since he himself does not have a trigger within him to raise such anger as is portrayed in many blogs ( mine included ) he can see no reason within such fans for their resort to criticism in the media to register their dissatisfaction at the direction the club and its manager are going.
I am of a similar vintage as Graham and I have always felt in my bones that Arsenal is a top class club. Throughout the decades from the 1930`s until 2004, they were never without a trophy during each decade and we have been a top club when Huddersfield, Wolves, Aston Villa, Burnley, Leeds, Liverpool, were all big clubs. Manchester Utd. post Munich have developed into probably the best British Club, but Manchester City and Chelsea are what would colloquially be described as “Blow ins” thanks to Oil money.
The Arsenal I cherish had a way of doing things which even the members of the press described as “The Arsenal Way”. We did not automatically expect that we would win all the trophies but up until the new money has entered the game, we challenged most years with players who came from the environment that the fans themselves came from. Our success, not our sugar daddies gave us a aura of superiority and the fans rejoiced when we beat our rivals, or mourned when we didn`t
My recollection is that the advent of television was what ignited the massive support that the big clubs had because we could actually see them playing instead of reading about them on Monday mornings. Our heroes were there on black and white screens. I remember watching Aston VIlla playing against Man Utd. in the FA cup just after Munich on a hazy screen, and then came colour and we saw England win the World cup in 1966. There was a period when Spurs in the 60`s were the best team in England, then Manchester Utd, Liverpool and Leeds had their period of dominance, but we were there before any of them and we are still a top club when others have fallen by the wayside.
We were doing well again under George Graham until he was fired for taking bungs and bringing the club into disrepute. The unfortunate Bruce Rioch took over and he signed Dennis Bergkamp before he was sacked after only one season. Wenger arrived and he brought a whole new approach to the game. He changed diets, stamped out the drinking culture embodied in Adams, Parlour and Merson and introduced a brand of football which became known once more as “The Arsenal Way” albeit for our style of play rather than our ethos.
He was christened “Le Professeur” for the way he conducted himself and the scholarly way that he conducted his press conferences. The peak of his achievement was his team of Invincibles in 2004. We had become the darlings of the media in print and on TV and Sky had higher viewing figures when we played rather than any other club because the neutrals loved our football. It was clear that we were too big to remain in HIghbury and Arsene was instrumental in planning and building The Emirates. That is where his magic ended.
I understand that we had to sell our best players to finance the build, but the nucleus of the Invincibles should have given him at least the opportunity of challenging for trophies. He had presided over a club for 8 years which had challenged for every trophy and we were a go to club for top players. That changed after 2004.
Despite the unfair advantages which Man City, Chelsea and Utd. have we were still capable of getting into the top 4. The other clubs were really only Liverpool and lately Spurs. Leicester was an aberration which will never be repeated. During this time it became obvious that we were going to have a hard time winning the Premiership but Wenger has repeatedly told us that we had a strong set of players with good character and resolve so that we would be able to continue challenging for top honours.
Unfortunately we were unable to maintain consistency throughout the season but we were still being told that our squad was good enough and that all we lacked was consistency. When the consistency did not appear, there were murmurings stirred up by unbelievable defeats to inferior teams which became common place. We also suffered some of the biggest defeats in the clubs history 8-2 by Utd. 6-0 by Chelsea repeated hidings by Barcelona and Bayern Munich. The only consistency was that we were near the top of the league at the end of October and scrambling to survive in the top 4 in February. The style of play became aimless and pedestrian and we had glaring weaknesses in defence. Perhaps, Graham, you can begin to see why the reason in the fans is beginning to be tested.
Despite oft repeated mistakes in tactics and in changing personnel to change the course of the match, Wenger kept telling us we had a determined squad which shows determination and character, despite the fact that they collapsed to Watford, Swansea, West Brom, West Ham etc. and they humiliated us against Bayern Munich. Still no stirring of understanding why the fans are feeling short changed, Add on the fact that they are paying the dearest price in the world for a ticket. After the Swansea semi final last year there were riots in the stadium and when asked by a reporter if he was listening to the complaints of the fans, Wenger said that he never listened to the fans complaints.
Graham says “But we do not operate within the sober atmosphere of a court hearing with a judge and a jury and court officials to ensure good behaviour”. That is perfectly correct, but what football fan would want to watch a game which takes place in such an environment? It is not performed in a Court. It is a contest in a football stadium where emotions are high and the fans invest their time and money in a recreation which has peaks and hollows. When they pay top price in the hope that their team will triumph, it is natural to expect see the character and determination which Wenger talks of, show itself in the performance of those same players which he insist have those characteristics.
Time after time, they let us down and time after time Wenger has failed to change what has become standard since at least 2005.
In regard to the comparison with Brexit, the biggest surprise in the referendum was that the working class areas which are usually Labour strongholds were the highest percentage of voters and that Immigration was the most important reason. It does not take a mind reader that they voted for a reason that caused them to desert labour and therefore it was not a case of reason on one side and no reason on the other.