As I was watching Liverpool against Bournemouth on Saturday it struck me how happy their fans are.
They haven’t won anything worth winning in an age, the league in an era, and won’t finish higher than second this season.
Of course, there is their Champions League run, but I dare say that even a semi-final run in the same competition would elicit a different sort of feeling at Arsenal – that of inevitable doom just waiting around the corner rather than a chance to win the best club competition in the world.
Liverpool fans are, you see, optimistic.
They have a relatively new manager who has had time to bed in his ideas and now they are seeing the fruit of his labour over the past two seasons. Liverpool fans anticipate games and dream of titles.
Whatever happens this season, when the start of next season rolls around, Liverpool fans will be absolutely gagging for it to get underway.
Arsenal fans, probably not so much.
If Arsene Wenger stays, which looks likely, you will be hard pushed to find any Arsenal fans going into the season dreaming of winning any sort of trophy, let alone the league.
Yes, I know Arsenal have won the FA Cup a lot recently and are in with a shout for the Europa League, but can you honestly say that you were reasonably confident about any of those things before the season started?
Did you have a decent feeling that Arsenal would do well in 17/18 or did you expect them to do exactly what they have done so far, albeit with differing degrees of embarrassment and getting their shit together when the season was three-quarters over?
I can’t remember the last time I went into a new season thinking that Arsenal had a decent chance of the league and that’s a feeling I miss. The giddiness when the first match comes around, the expectation that you could witness something special this season, the belief that the players will commit themselves to this as much as everyone who supports the team.
Yet, season after season the same pattern plays out. A late-season rally to recover some sort of respectability in the hopes that what went before can be forgotten.
It’s a weird place to be as an Arsenal fan.
Fans of other clubs rightly think we are spoiled. Here is a side that consistently finishes in the top six, makes European competition and picks up trophies more often than not.
There are over 80 clubs in England alone who would love to be where Arsenal fans are bitching about being.
But it used to be that we never finished outside the top two and were picking up leagues. Then it was top four with no silverware but Champions League football. Now it is top six with a few cups and the Europa League.
Watching your side slide is concerning whether that is from the top of the pile or the bottom of the heap
With Arsene Wenger at the club so long, there will be little feeling that things can change heading into the new season.
Sure, Arsenal can buy, and with the addition of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan to Ozil and Ramsey we have attacking prowess that should take care of itself. They are intelligent players who know how to play to win. With them up front, Arsenal might be able to cope with a defensive strategy that depends on people who like making mistakes not doing so.
Arsenal might luck upon a team that manages themselves into something greater than what we’ve witnessed over the past decade.
But they probably won’t.
It’s now 14 years since Arsenal won the league.
That means Arsene Wenger has been a title winning manager at the club for far less time than not. Of course, the construction of the new stadium took its toll.
A decade of austerity would set us on the road to world domination. At least, that’s how the dream was sold. But we are now almost a decade and a half on and the distance to the top teams seems bigger not smaller. It’s as if the manager, who was forced to sacrifice for the future of the club, can no longer find the switch he needs to flip to stop playing it so safe.
Arsenal have given him time. They’ve given him money and support. Yet here we are in the league at the start of April with nothing to play for but 5th place, and that’s only because Chelsea have been having their own little crisis.
They will respond in the summer by sacking another manager who won the league just one season ago. Their way is not one I’d want at Arsenal but you have to think there is a middle ground. A way to give managers both time and an expectation to deliver within a certain timeframe.
I’m sure there are expectations on Wenger. Post stadium move, they were to finish in the top four and try to win some cups. We did the first part but when we finally started to find a way to do the second, we lost grip on the top four quickly.
So what are the targets at Arsenal heading into the 18/19 season?
They must be mounting a serious and sustained title charge as befits a club of Arsenal’s size and stature, but how can they do that with a manager who has showed no sign of winning a league since 2008?
Would you endorse the signing of a manager who had won just a handful of FA Cups over the past decade?
Or would you demand more from the applicants?
Like taking ten years out of the work force, Wenger is struggling to adapt in modern football after ten years of austerity.
What he did during that decade was nothing short of remarkable, but the step from consistently good to consistently good enough to win titles is one of Hilary proportions.
It’s just not possible to have faith that he can make that step any more and faith, perhaps more than anything else, is the bedrock for optimism.