For a long time now, Arsenal’s fan base has been horribly split. In the bars and pubs surrounding the Emirates, there were some whose pint glass was perennially half full. And then there were another, angrier sort, served up exactly the same stuff week on week, who regarded their glass as half empty, and could really have done with a refill. After Tuesday night’s defeat to Bradford City, I think we’re all agreed that we’re in desperate need of a drink.
In the last few weeks my perspective on the club, team, and manager has shifted considerably, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Recent events have felt significant. After a few wobbly weeks, we reached our nadir at Valley Parade. To lose to a side 64 league places below you is humiliating for everyone associated with the club.
It’s worrying that off the top of my head I can think of several other humiliations in the last few years. It’s a string of traumatic memories that begins with a calamitous Carling Cup Final defeat to Birmingham, encompasses an 8-2 hammering at Old Trafford, and takes in a lifeless 4-0 thumping in the San Siro. In his blog yesterday arseblogger called this current Arsenal side ‘punch drunk’. There’s an argument that ever since Obafemi Martins delivered that knockout blow in February 2011, they’ve been reeling and staggering, occasionally throwing Spurs a decent hook but essentially vulnerable, and heading for the canvas.
Bradford seems to have tipped the scales. I think the fans sensed the opportunity of a trophy. They knew that winning a cup could buy the club credibility, and the manager time. A quarter-final against a League Two team seemed an easy passage. We were three games from Wembley, and four from a modicum of glory. And we let it slip.
Everyone seems to be moving on to the same page now. If there’s one positive to come out of this, it’s that it’s healing some of the rifts between groups of Arsenal fans. What worries me, however, is that the supporters are united in unrest. The atmosphere at the Emirates will become more delicate than ever.
We all seem to be agreed: something must be done. Very few Arsenal fans are happy with where we are right now. There is a yearning for change. Whatever we’re doing right now does not feel satisfactory. It does not feel good. It does not feel healthy.
But here’s the problem. I’m loath to say it out loud, because I feel like it renders all comment and speculation on the subject slightly pointless, but here goes: I don’t think anything will change. Not really. Not for a while.
I love Arsene Wenger. He’s been a great man – let alone manager – for Arsenal. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about the fact that the team seems to be going irreparably stale under his supervision. However, I can assure you now, even if we lose to Reading on Monday by six, seven or eight goals: the manager isn’t going anywhere. Not anytime soon. He has never broken a contract in his life, and he has a deal until 2014. The board have neither the will nor the footballing expertise to go about replacing him, and he himself will not want to leave Arsenal on a low point. He will keep pursuing redemption.
The key figures on the board aren’t going to change either. A few unsavoury chants won’t make Ivan Gazidis think about chucking in his exorbitant salary.
The only hope, the only plausible option, is that there is a change of the club’s transfer policy. You’d think that’d make sense, seeing as the policy over the last few years seems to have consisted of selling off the major talent without adequately replacing them, effectively overseeing a gradual decline in the quality of the squad and our chances of challenging for any major trophies. There is money sitting in the bank, and a forthcoming chance to go and spend it – a transfer window of opportunity. Arsenal could make a statement, and buy players of the kind of calibre to ensure that even if we do lose someone like Theo Walcott, the playing side is protected by a depth and wealth of quality talent.
I don’t see it happening. Both board and manager are wedded to our existing philosophy. They’re knotted together, each guilty of leading us in this purgatorial fourth-place pursuit.
I’d love to be proved wrong about that, just as I’d love to be proved wrong about my growing suspicion that the decline of Arsene’s Arsenal is terminal. I’ve waited for so long to see him lift a trophy again, and now I don’t believe I ever will. I want so badly for this club to top up my drink, and make it seem half-full again rather than half-empty. I want something to change, and I’m scared it won’t. Stagnation, it’s worth remembering, leads to rot.