Arsenal’s victory at Hull City on Tuesday ensured that we will continue our defence of the FA Cup this weekend.
I don’t know, because I can’t be bothered to count them, how many matches unbeaten that is in the FA Cup. However, I do know that we haven’t lost in the competition since February 16th 2013. Whichever way you slice it, we are just three matches away from a second consecutive successful defence of the famous trophy.
And yet, and yet, some of the away fans at Hull chose to once again bring out the infamous “Thanks for the memories…” banner. The wording of this banner strikes me as particularly, well, Arsenal in its sentiment. It’s almost as though the people who created it are trying to give the impression that they’d really rather not have had to create the banner but have been left no choice. The banner seems to say, ‘Sorry Arsène, but it’s not us, it’s definitely you’.
Most Arsenal fans, the sensible ones anyway, have reacted with disdain to this latest cry for help from a section of the travelling faithful. Ian Wright even waded into the debate with the following tweet, as clinical as his finishing once used to be…
.@DeejayDt I'll disrespect you all day long unfurling your muggy banner after a 4-0 win and plenty enough games left in the league. 🔔🔚
— Ian Wright (@IanWright0) March 8, 2016
#shotsfired, I believe is the hashtag.
The thing is, I do have a certain sympathy with the banner bearers. Not in unfurling it after a 4-0 win – although I suppose that they might argue that having made the trip up north to Hull that they are entitled to do exactly as they like. They might also argue that the fact that they even had to go to a replay is symptomatic of the malaise Arsenal Football Club appears to find itself in. They might argue that, I’m not saying that they have done so.
The problem here is, I think, that there is a large group of Arsenal fans, growing by the day, who feel nothing but frustration with the current regime and have little outlet for expressing it. And who amongst us doesn’t understand why these fans are frustrated? We are coming third in a three-way battle with Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur for the league title. And if we think that we do still have a chance – and I do – then we have to accept that Manchester City are still in it too.
We were top of the table on New Year’s Day and we’re now watching our best chance of the league title since 2004 disappear over the horizon faster than Jamie Vardy running onto a ball down the inside left. Actually, the dissipation of our title challenge has less in common with Mr. Vardy and more to do with the kind of painstaking, elaborate death traps James Bond is usually subjected to. Although he usually escapes them, doesn’t he? It’s difficult to see any escape for Arsenal this season. Or for Mr. Wenger generally.
It’s hard to fathom how a team containing the likes of Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Özil and Alexis have been so insipid this year. When opportunity knocked for us at the start of the calendar year, rather than flinging that door wide open, the players and manager have collectively shrank back as though Michael Myers was standing on the other side of it. And for fans who, whatever the details, do pay some of the highest ticket prices in football, it can only be maddening to watch Arsenal repeating the same mistakes of two years ago… three, four, five six years ago.
I’m not quite sure what the guys that do go to games and are fed up are supposed to do. I mean, I don’t go anymore and find Arsenal’s antics (and yes, antics is exactly how I would describe them much of the time) enraging. The fact that I don’t go anymore doesn’t mean that I don’t care any less, it just means I spend less of my day thinking about the latest Arsenal atrocity. However, if I was one of those poor souls who spent the day travelling to and from Manchester to watch an Arsenal team turn up in name only last weekend… well, you’re going to be annoyed, aren’t you?
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) March 8, 2016
On that, having been to the infamous 8-2 game, I can speak from experience. Two options: annoyance or drunkenness.
I chose the bottle and a three-day hangover.
Short of getting ratted every time you go and watch Arsenal get beat, I think you do need an outlet. It goes without saying, although I already have, that getting it out after a 4-0 win is plainly daft and just likely to annoy your fellow fans. However, the banner itself is probably the best way of getting their point of view across. As it did when it first appeared a few years back (at Reading, was it?), it has intensified the debate around the manager’s position. To be honest, in any other boardroom, you would expect that Arsenal’s form this year would be a hot topic of conversation.
However, it’s difficult to look at the Arsenal board and think that any conversations about the manager are being had – apart from what sort of pay rise they might offer him next summer. So I think that whilst the banner is clearly not helpful, particularly in the context of a team trying, however unlikely it might seem now, to win the league title, I do understand where these guys are coming from.
Effectively, I suppose, they are trying to bully a manager they see as untouchable into ending a twenty-year association with this football club. I don’t particularly like the way they are going about it, but I sort of respect the fact that they care enough to try. As the man himself once said, “Once you have had caviar it is hard to go back to sausages“. I don’t think anyone reading this is under any illusion that there have been a few too many bangers served up this season. Not even Walls either, proper nasty Richmond jobbies…
As we hear tales of queues outside Arsenal tube with 15 minutes left of last week’s game against Swansea, the tide seems to have turned irrevocably against the manager. The sad thing is that a third consecutive FA Cup win is unlikely to redeem this season in the eyes of most fans. It sounds mad to say it, but given the way this season has gone, even the league title may not be enough. I know that for some of you reading this, much of what I am saying will be unpalatable, but it’s worth remembering that we do live in a democracy. Even in football stadiums.
Whilst I may not like the sentiments expressed in that banner last night, I would absolutely defend those Arsenal fans right to unfurl it. Even if they did look stupid doing it after a 4-0 win.