Arsenal’s dramatic win at home to Burnley on Sunday was underscored by huge controversy.
I think it’s fair to say that, isn’t it?
The thing is though, I’m not talking about the penalty Jon Moss awarded an offside Laurent Koscielny when Ben Mee attempted to kick the Frenchman’s head into Tottenham. I’m not talking about the seven minutes of injury time in which Jon Moss earlier awarded Burnley a penalty, provoking Arsène Wenger into a rather ridiculous meltdown. I’m not even talking about the decision from Moss to, again, dismiss Granit Xhaka. Not even as we have seen far worse tackles go unpunished this season.
For the record, I think that although Stephen Defour made the most of minimal contact from Xhaka, a Premier League footballer simply should not jump into a tackle the way Xhaka did. It was ridiculously stupid, inviting the exact decision that Moss made.
The thing that really caught my attention over the weekend is the ire which REDaction’s latest banner has produced. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention recently, they have commissioned this:
Now, I can understand that people might think it’s a bit odd to have a banner acclaiming Alexis’ dogs up in the stadium. But I really don’t understand why people are getting embarrassed, or, even worse, angry about it.
It’s. Just. A. Banner. A bit of fun. No more, no less.
More to the point, we can see here that Alexis is pretty happy about this latest development and why wouldn’t he be? It may not prevent him from upping sticks at the end of his contract, but it’s not going to harm the relationship between him, us and the football club, is it?
As Arsenal fans, we’ve suffered through years of Squillaci, Bendtner, Denilson, Eboue and Almunia. We suffered through drawing 4-4 at home to Spurs despite being 4-2 up with Steve McMahon’s minute left. We’ve suffered through an 8-2 battering at Old Trafford, Arsène’s 1000th game and tremendous humiliation at the hands of his great, unspeakable, nemesis. We’ve been 4-0 down at Liverpool after 20 minutes and, just a couple of weeks ago, were 3-0 down at Bournemouth. No offence Bournemouth fans, but really? A few days later, we were then outplayed by Championship side, Preston, and were very lucky not to be three or four down by half time.
Before Arsène, there was George Graham and Paul Merson. You want to talk about a banner being embarrassing?
On some level, I get it. Arsenal fans pay some of the highest ticket prices in the country and get, in terms of real contentment, very little back. Particularly when compared to 15 years ago. Sunday saw our manager scrapping, understandably* but uselessly, with an untouchable Premier League referee.
But the thing that pushes everyone over the edge is a banner.
A banner produced in honour of one of our best players, our best player some would say, and his dogs. A banner, in fact, that Alexis made a point of celebrating his last minute winner in front of.
When did we all become so precious about our football? When did we stop becoming able to go to football and have a laugh? Or, as Redaction said…
— REDaction Gooners (@REDactionAFC) January 22, 2017
It’s true that they put this very question a bit more forcefully than many would have, but I think it’s difficult to blame them. I also think that if there was a banner to get upset about. I find the “Why fly when you can walk on water” one a bit cringeworthy, but that may just be me. I certainly wouldn’t presume to tell REDaction that they should remove it, lest all Arsenal fans be tarnished with the most terrible sense of shame for the rest of our days on earth.
I blame the football club, really.
The unhappy valley
My friend Luke, having witnessed me and Harry have our regular Mesut Özil argument last week, said an interesting thing. He regards me and Harry as two, reasonably well educated, intelligent guys; at least, I hope he does. Yet, he sees us coming to blows over everything Arsenal related, time and time again. And he sees this small conflict played out on a larger scale whenever Arsenal Fan TV post their latest videos (how the Everton fan enjoys these!).
How is this, our smaller conflict, possible? I grew up with Harry, he used to live five minutes down the road from me – or a 90 second cycle (I did it once). Yet, our views on Arsenal couldn’t be more different.
For him, Arsène is God and Özil’s failure to jump for a ball at Everton is something that he was still bringing up last week. For me, Arsène probably needs a tap on the shoulder and Mesut’s failure to jump for the ball is just symptomatic of larger issues at the club created by Arsène’s management. Now that could be lack of accountability, or a plan when defending corners. It may even be a bit of both. Whatever it is, when you come down to it, the truth is that both Harry and I are unhappy.
We have just identified different causes of our unhappiness and have different ways, although not that different, of expressing this. I think that, perhaps, we represent a microcosm of the great Arsenal fan divide in 2017. I think that the years 1998-2004 created an expectation that was unsustainable, particularly when we were about to move stadiums. Then it created a ticket price that became alienating. Understandably, fans quickly got tired of, to borrow a once popular metaphor, watching sausages whilst paying for caviar.
Ironically, a banner celebrating one of the biggest talents we’ve had at the club since the move has become an unwitting target for this unhappiness. A target for a group of fans who have had enough of the football club, but don’t quite know how to say so.
*I say “understandably”, because well… Anthony Taylor. And Jon Moss.