“There’s your fairytale,” screamed Peter Drury after Danny Welbeck clinched Arsenal’s win against Leicester City midway through February.
At that moment, you’d have been hard-pressed to find an Arsenal fan who didn’t think our name was on the Premier League trophy. All the traditional competitors were lagging behind, Leicester City would surely falter and we had good results in the big games against our rivals.
Since then we have only won two of seven Premier League games. Since pathetic, lethargic and clueless performances against Manchester United, Swansea City and West Ham United it’s hard to get angry. I’ve never really been a fan to scream at the television, even if I do get incredibly frustrated.
Personally, I find it easier to sit back and comment on what I think’s wrong with the side, the referee, the world. My dad, from whom I’ve inherited my passion for The Arsenal, certainly doesn’t hold back. Even he just sat back in silence as we faltered on Sunday and Crystal Palace struck their equaliser.
Over the past few weeks, it’s occurred to me that supporting Arsenal has massively influenced the way I watch football, the players I enjoy seeing and the style of play I’m a fan of. Now, though, it isn’t the same. Born in 1994, I was never going to be anything but an Arsenal fan but Arsène Wenger is the only thing that remains from the club I remember growing up enamoured with. Even he is now a source of frustration rather than pride; this is the season that’s broken me.
My favourite ever Arsenal player is Dennis Bergkamp, a man who embodied a European style when everyone else in England continued to focus on physical attributes. Wenger’s Arsenal was always about expression, freedom and excitement. Nowadays the freedom is all that remains and, more often than not, it is little but a flaw.
That attacking style was great while we remained at Highbury and developed into a more technical possession-based game when finances were tight as we moved to the Emirates Stadium. Young players and guys who had gone under the radar shone with Wenger’s guidance, going closer to glory than is often reported. The 2007/08 season saw an injury crisis ravage a young squad, the knock-on effect impacted on their confidence and the league title was narrowly missed.
Nevertheless, the exciting talents of Cesc Fàbregas and co. promised a bright future and attractive football. Along with Alex Hleb, Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Robin van Persie and later Samir Nasri, Arsenal had enormous young talents with Fàbregas, the poster boy of Wenger’s vision. Not one player in the side ever looked uncomfortable on the ball, something rarely seen in English football at the time.
Seasons between 2009 and 2011 were similarly unfortunate but I could stomach that as long as I could identify with the way we were playing. Fluid movement and inventive football, fans of other clubs would’ve done anything to watch their sides play like that. It was simply a widely accepted truth that Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal played the best football in the Premier League, even if it wasn’t yielding trophies. That was, in itself, something to be proud of.
Arsenal were just fun. Not for fans, but for the players – mostly young and incredibly talented, they just enjoyed expressing themselves with the privilege of doing so while wearing the famous red and white.
We didn’t always win, we came close to a few titles, but we entertained. The freedom and expression on the pitch is a style of football I’ve come to identify myself with as a lover of the game but it is not anything like the club nowadays; watching Arsenal has become a chore.
A year ago I would have been furious at the side for dropping more points from a winning position, even though it was predictable. I rooted for previous Arsenal teams to win not just for me but for themselves. This team is boring to watch, functional at their best and all over the place at their worst. What’s to like?
In 2008, in 2011, in 2014 I was so desperate to see Arsenal win because the players deserved it – I wanted them to win for themselves, not just for me. Now I just want Arsenal to win for me and that doesn’t feel right.
What happens when nothing remains of the club you fell in love with?
Eventually, in a year like this, it begins to feel like you support Arsenal out of habit rather than genuine affection or enjoyment. Nothing that made me fall in love with the club in the first place remains. Maybe that’s something all supporters go through at some point but it’s the first time it’s ever struck me.
When Danny Welbeck flicked that header home against Leicester City it felt like everything would be alright, regardless of my feelings about the way we have played this season. Now I realise the fairytale was nothing but a fleeting dream.
I’m not mad and I’m not even disappointed. As long as Arsenal play as they have this season I fear I’ll be living with apathy ever after. For now, I’m sort of just hoping the team looks a little more attractive after the summer. I won’t hold my breath.