Liverpool away, Bayern Munich at home, Lincoln City at home – three games in eight days, yet in reality it is so much more.
If Manchester United win their 3pm fixture at home to a Bournemouth side that has taken one point from its last six matches, then BT Sport’s top 4 clash will between the team in fifth versus the team in sixth. If United fail to win, then the pressure to capitalise on their slip-up will be just as great as the pressure will be to keep up with them if they do.
Anfield, then, will not be full of people with much patience for teams that both desperately need a result. With the away fan base calling for their manager to step aside, and the home fans wondering aloud as to whether they should be doing the same, it’s going to be very nervy on Saturday evening.
But even if Arsenal survive the inevitable and depressingly predictable reaction from a Liverpool team trying to redeem itself after a miserable performance at Leicester last Monday, and come away with a good result that keeps their Champions League qualification hopes on track, nothing is going to stop what happens when Arsenal’s first home game in 24 days kicks off.
It is a quirk of the fixture list that the first home game since Arsenal’s besmirching at Bayern Munich just happens to be Bayern Munich. Again. Arsenal have played, and won, since then, but the vast majority of their fans haven’t had a chance to give the team and the board AND the manager a piece of their mind.
There have been occasions when protests have been planned, and indeed made, but Tuesday will be different. Every time a protest was organised before, it was always made abundantly clear by the majority of fans in the stadium that they still had faith in the current management and the team that had been built by Arsene Wenger.
There are more protests planned for Tuesday night, and we can have no doubt that the number of fans involved will be larger than in earlier instances. But over the past few years of infighting between Arsenal fans over the future of the club, there has always been a reluctance to having that argument during an actual game. The closest we got to such a display was last April, but even that got drowned out by a concerted effort from fans to show that they still believed, that they still had faith.
Now, with that belief and faith seemingly misplaced, the same group of fans who have gone to game after game will now be asked to, once again, turn up and show their support, three and a half weeks after that support was repayed in the most depressing of fashion. And that group of fans will be greeted with a scoreboard that shows their team, the team that they suffer with every weekend, is already 5-1 down.
At the heart of every ‘Wenger In’ argument was the idea that he was the right man to bring the success that fans thought was possible at Arsenal, not just a Cup win or two, but League titles. At least one, anyway. European success would always be a bonus, but maybe, with a bit of luck and a kind knockout draw, Arsenal could win the big one.
But on Tuesday night, not only will Arsenal fans get a chance to vent their frustration at yet another season of broken promises and shattered dreams, but the team that burst that bubble so convincingly will also be in the Emirates Stadium, acting almost like the star prize that an unlucky contestant could’ve won on a Saturday night TV game show if only they had known what the capital of Macedonia was called (Skopje).
It’s going to take a lot of effort and, quite frankly, stubbornness, for anyone with an Arsenal affection to put themselves through the hassle of attending a midweek game, despite having no chance of gaining anything from it other than a slow, painless elimination from a competition that the club makes constant statements about being a top priority. It’s like going to the dentist, except you won’t get a lollipop at the end.
If Arsenal lose on Saturday, it will be hard to escape the feeling that Arsenal’s season is over.
If that happens, then Tuesday’s game against Bayern will only be viewed in the stadium by those who care about the club and those who want to see change. 60,000 people, fed up with watching the same season pan out in front of their eyes for a decade, charged Category A prices to watch the team that disappointed them again play the team that illustrated just how far behind Arsenal still are.
There will, of course, still be a desire to cheer the team whilst in the stadium, but this will be done more out of duty than anything else. After all, the only reason any of us ever go to a game in the first place is to show how much we care about Arsenal, and how much we want to help support them. But with another league title run coming to a premature end, and a Champions League dream in the middle of being ruthlessly extinguished, what else will there be for a fan to do, other than show their frustration? [cont below]
Arsene Wenger may be uncertain as to whether he should stay or not, but Tuesday night will bring 60,000 voices into the discussion. A storm is coming…