I awaited the 12th minute with bated breath.
Would our divided fan base align for the first time in at least half a season and follow through with the protest? Or would it remain divided but at least partly showing solidarity with the playing and coaching members of the club?
The atmosphere was just a tiny notch higher than recent games, registering a meagre echoing of songs and chants compared to almost silence over the rest of April. A couple of lone voices tried valiantly to raise the volume another notch in anticipation of an outpouring of anger.
As the clock ticked to 33 (the Emirates clocks count down from 45 rather than up from 0) a smattering of boos built up around the ground. Yet they were almost instantaneously drowned out by a much bigger and louder group.
“We love you Arsenal, we do!”
Depressingly, it was probably the most raucous atmosphere of any game I’ve attended this season (I missed the North London Derby, don’t ask!) and it rather supported the case I made before the game about how Arsene Wenger has managed to create an “us” and “them” between two elements of the same club rather than the club and the opposition. But not on Saturday.
Saturday sent a resounding message from match-going fans back around the club. Things are not perfect, but things are not quite as bad as we’re being manipulated into thinking they are by the propaganda of the press.
More tellingly, “We Love You Arsenal” was promptly followed by “One Arsene Wenger”, and although a larger proportion of the crowd felt the need to express some displeasure at the sentiment, the majority around me were still bellowing out the song. Judging by the usual mutinous comments, there’s no way half the stand are in support of the manager, and yet they were still prepared to sing his name in defence of words being put in their mouths, in defence against the slander by the press, and in defence of the club itself.
Perhaps we’re starting to get the hang of this “us and them” thing after all.
For a good ten minutes thereafter, the North Bank ran through a fairly comprehensive repertoire of club songs, including “By Far The Greatest Team”, “49, 49 Undefeated” and “Arsenal, Arsenal” before running through a litany of individual player songs too. The theoretical 78th-minute protest was just a complete non-event.
It summed up the way our internal turmoils have been reported this season that upon returning home, my other half wanted to know all about the protests and how the press had reported it was the worst atmosphere of the season. Even if I was exaggerating slightly (I’m not) even the most ardent fan would struggle to label the worst atmosphere of the season as the best.
I was there. Are you calling me a liar? And for those interested, not a banner in sight in the North Bank Upper.
So, a vocal atmosphere once the protest time had been reached, and one which continued for much of the first half. It was a shame that the performance on those on the pitch in that first half didn’t match the dizzy heights of those off the pitch, and as a soporific half of football drew to a close, the boos started to sound again in disappointment at the lethargic performance.
I have my personal views on whether it’s that helpful to boo at half time with 45 minutes to play and the scores still level, but I wouldn’t dispute the rights of others to voice their displeasure at that point in time in relation to the football fare they are served up. The dissatisfaction was certainly understandable given the lack of energy, effort and especially running off the ball.
Those same boos turned to cheers at full time as we saw out – albeit shakily – a classic scoreline: 1-0 to the Arsenal. At one point, even Mesut Özil was moved to gesture into the crowd and raise the noise levels another notch.
To me, this match simply served to underline that matchday fans can be very different animals to those who opine from a distance via social media.
We’re all disappointed by how the season has gone. We’re all desperate for things to improve and get us back to winning league titles.
But when you pay good money and commit a chunk of your weekend to travel to the game, support the team, and travel home again with a cheeky drink or two in between, it’s much harder to turn up with a negative attitude.
Being miserable isn’t much fun.
We don’t choose to support Arsenal – it’s something which is too deep-rooted to escape – so we have to hope that things will go better each time we arrive at the ground. We have to believe that our support can make the difference too.
Even when Giroud is falling over more than a toddler taking its first steps, even when Alexis runs down a blind alley for the tenth time, and even when Wenger makes a sub we disagree with (turns out playing two forwards isn’t such a bad idea after all, who knew?!) we still have to believe that we can win the game.
And when we lose that hope, that love, that investment in our team, what’s left?
This protest was different to the Liverpool one earlier this year. The ticket price objections were shared by Liverpool fans, opposition fans and the media alike, presenting a united front that the club struggled to oppose.
Our protest is an internal matter between our own constituents, one of which is not the press. So it was great to see the crowd stand up for themselves and effectively stick two fingers up at that same media to say: we may not be happy, but we will not be bullied into supporting your money-spinning agenda.
There’s plenty of unrest at the Emirates, but the lack of subtlety in twisting Arsene’s press conference this week simply exposed the media agenda for what it is: stirring.
When is a club not a club? When it’s divided.
Saturday, for the first time in a long time, the fans came together, to show their love for our great club.
And together, we can move forward.