Given the weekend’s happenings, I think now would be a pretty good time to start supporting a different team.
Arsenal are now out of the FA Cup thanks to Watford, realistically no longer in the running to win the title, and are basically out of the Champions League. Our season, which started with so much promise, has taken a dramatic nose-dive and we’re left with that familiar empty feeling inside.
Despite winning the FA Cup for the last couple of seasons, in terms of the League, this feeling has become the status quo for Arsenal fans. We’ll sometimes start a little shakily but soon we gain momentum. Pundits start complimenting our style; this could be ‘our year’. We get reports from ex-players and journalists about the ‘amazing atmosphere in the dressing room’ and various interviews come out with our players harping on about what great mates they are behind the scenes.
‘Only one Arsene Wenger’ rings out from the North Bank and we really believe that this time things have changed. This time, our leaky defence has hardened its structure; we’ve grown a spine; we have something about us. Headlines with phrases like ‘Gunners firing on all cylinders’ are printed and for a time, it’s actually nice to pick up a newspaper and read how great we are. On the train, you pointedly smile at the enlarged picture of Giroud sliding toward the camera on his knees and nod knowingly as another commuter raises his own copy of the paper. Yeah, that’s right Mr.: We’re going to win the League. Scratch that: Champions League. You hum the tune to ‘We’ve got Ozil, Mesut Ozil’ as you strut off the train, doing a heel click as you exit the carriage.
However, come January, something happens. You win but you win ugly. You scroll through Twitter, wiping the beads of sweat off your brow and nodding along with people talking about how that’s what Champions do. They win even when they’re not playing well. Players need a rest. We didn’t lose. People are sooo dramatic.
The next match we don’t win. It’s just a bump in the road, everyone says. We’re better than we were before, we MUST have learnt something. This time will be different. We’ll deal with it and move on to the next match. Players talk about ‘bouncing back’ and it just being a ‘blip’; we believe them. We were unlucky, did you see how many chances we had? And we hit the bar at least once. The referee as well – we got nothing. There was a clear handball in the first half. We’re going to be fine.
We’re now in March and everything has gone south. We aren’t fine and we’re only getting worse.
Once again, Gooners’ season has been complete deja vu.
It’s at times like these where I wonder why I willingly put myself through this. Why do I love this team so much? I imagine how easy some teams have it. Despite having a shocking season, Chelsea, who are geographically the closest team to where I grew up, usually have it pretty good. Well, for the last decade at least. They’re usually guaranteed to be at least competing anyway and if something’s not working, it’s fixed one way or another.
Because of where I grew up, just minutes from Cobham, I was surrounded by Chelsea fans. The majority of my old friends still wear blue with the odd Fulham, QPR and Palace fan thrown in for diversity. When I first started drinking in pubs almost a decade ago, ‘Chels’ versus ‘some next team’ was the game always on the TV. I tried to connect with them but I couldn’t. I wasn’t excited about the way they played. I knew their names but didn’t care for their style or attitude. I could jump up and shout and get riled up about a wrong offside decision.
When I watched Arsenal play it was like a lightbulb flicked on and I was like, ‘so this is why people like football so much’ and I never looked back. You see, I was born into a rugby family who don’t care for football. So the team I chose to support was 100% my decision. I wasn’t crammed into a tiny Arsenal t-shirt as a baby, nor was I taken to games as I got older. It was something I chose for myself and because of that I can’t even blame anyone else when they break my heart. Nor would I want to.
I love this team a whole lot. Not more than my friends or my family but more than a lot of things (and to be fair it probably stands on par with some members of my extended family…). I chose to support them and that’s what I’ll continue to do. Arsenal may not be in my DNA and many may doubt my ability to truly support a team I’ve only followed for a decade but that doesn’t bother me.
It doesn’t matter how much we lose or how inept we play.
It does matter who stays or who goes.
It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since we won the Premier League.
Nor does it matter who manages my wonderful club.
I’m still Arsenal until I die.