It’s the Time of the Season….
A man who is proud of his club has something to say. Step forward Mr Consolsbob.
….for Arsenal supporters to applaud the achievements of their team this season, to hail their manager whose vision is the best hope of a sport in crisis and to bask in the memories of some glorious football that fans of sides like Chelsea and Liverpool can only dream about….
….or, to deride their team as failing to win a trophy for five years, pour scorn on their manager’s ‘Project Youth’ and to wallow in the memory of gormless defeats at the hands of their closest rivals and, worse, Wigan and Blackburn.
Arsenal fans have seemingly never been more divided as to where Our Team stands in the pantheon of Arsenal teams of the last 20 years. On the brink of being our Greatest Side Ever or a Team that Never-Will-Be.
I know what I think but for now consider the wider view of Arsenal. The Club as a whole, the club as more than the team on the pitch. Here there can be no real argument as to what a successful season we have enjoyed. Debt reduced enormously, property deals turning profits, a strengthened management team in place, money in the bank and a Boardroom that if not as stable as we might like at least has not fallen into the hands of soulless corporations or playboys.
Throw in one of the best stadiums in the world, a scouting network second to none, a Youth Development Programme that is the model for sensible clubs, a commitment to building a strong and sustainable financial base and things look pretty good.
How many clubs in Britain and Europe would swap what they have for what we have? 90%? 99% Something like the latter I suspect. No real cause for complaint then. No really, we haven’t. A few gripes maybe but from any other seat in any other club, bar one or two, we nearly have it all. Look around the other clubs in the Premiership to realise how fortunate we are.
What about the performance and composition of the Team on the pitch this season? I thought we had a very good chance of winning the Premiership and maybe the Champions League. I didn’t expect us to win either mind, I just thought that we had a reasonable chance. That’s really all you ever have in sport. Winning is never guaranteed.
We started the season looking like we would sweep all before us. Breath taking football. That didn’t last but we kept fighting and winning in some style most of the time. Right up to the last few games, we were in with a good shout. Then it went wrong. Points dropped in games that prospective champions would expect to win. Defeats in strange and horrible places. The domestic Cups came and went without much to excite us. In the Champions league we faced “the best Team in the World”, well, that week anyway. It wasn’t the Arsenal that we hoped to see, the team only performing in brief interludes between Barca dominance and control.
The team were then subject, not for the first time, to the critical ‘analysis’ that it suffers whenever it loses. There is no heart in the side, men against boys, no leaders, too small, no strength in depth, our keepers are not good enough. Pick your preferred pundit, choose your preferred opinion and paste ad nauseum on any blog that will have you.
Not in my view. This team has more heart and courage than any it is called upon to emulate. How many times did it come back from disappointment and regain it’s place in the fight? How many times did we score in the dying minutes of games to gain the points. How many times, and here’s the rub, did players perform in unfamiliar roles as we tried to cope with the seemingly never ending injuries to senior players? Injuries are not an excuse but they do explain why we failed at the last. We didn’t really run out of players, we did run out of creative players, out of players that can change matches.
Increasingly we struggled to break down teams, to score the crucial goals that win trophies, to show the heart and belief that we had in spades earlier in the season. Towards the end a patched up central defence didn’t help. We missed the genius and leadership that great players like Cesc, RVP and Arshavin provide. Their replacements had good games, tried but couldn’t, ultimately, provide that piece of magic and strength of purpose that truly great players can.
Some of those players who couldn’t drag us over the line may go on to become great, Nasri springs to mind, maybe Walcott. Time will tell. Overall it meant that at times the side that turned out contained 5 or 6 players that would not have been starters with a fully fit squad. A few of those were replacements for replacements. One or two were found wanting.
Goalkeeping? We weren’t strong enough in this position. Inconsistency will always be punished in the long run and we were at key moments in games that left us with even more work to do if we were to prevail.
It wasn’t the ’keepers’ fault though that we conceded too many goals, that is down to the team as a whole. A lack of collective nous together with too many individual errors.
Let’s make a passing mention of the appalling level of officiating that almost certainly robbed us of a handful of points and players through persistent foul play. Nothing else to be expected there unfortunately. The FA are incompetent, perhaps worse.
So we finished third in the Premiership, quarter finalists in the Champions League and nowhere in the domestic cups. We have assembled one of the most outrageously talented squads the country has seen. We played some of the best football that I have ever witnessed. Other fans must shake their heads when they watch us play. Not too shabby.
It can’t be denied though that ultimately this was a season in which we failed to deliver on the pitch consistently enough to win a trophy. In the last analysis the team was not as good as many of us thought it was, pretty good but not the finished article. I wouldn’t swap this squad for any other in the Premiership nor in Europe. I’d pinch a couple of players if I could and I’m sure Wenger will.
There we go then, the end of a pretty good season if trophyless. We are the supporters of one of the best placed clubs in the world with a great squad and we know that there is more, much more to come.
So why all the acrimony and dissatisfaction? The problem for some seems to be that we haven’t got everything NOW. Where are the trophies?
Well, it’s true that we haven’t got any at this actual moment but is this really a time for the unfettered anger of many, for their bleakness and bile, the ridiculous calls for Arsene’s head and the clamour to sign ‘Galacticos’ and clear out the squad?
Why is there no joy in the hearts of so many after this season? Why can’t they see the wider picture? For me, it’s the ridiculous expectations and immaturity of too many fans of the game. Not just ours but all fans of the top sides, although we seem to suffer more than most because of the different approach to success that our club takes. They have forgotten that their primary purpose is to support. That football is a competition where nothing can be guaranteed.
A generation of fans have grown up in the era of the Premier League, their paymasters Sky and a pathetic, ignorant media. Everything is hyped. A few teams are expected to win every time. All losses are ‘disasters’. Any perceived weakness is ‘analysed’ by ex pros and pundits, whose lack of insight and intelligence is mind numbing. Any remedial action can only be achieved through the cheque book. Their shallow and self interested views are fed to ‘supporters’ who are critically unable to sift out the garbage, preferring to run with the pack.
There is no joy taken by these people in the building of a team over years. No pleasure in a great performance. No understanding or acceptance that sport isn’t, nor can it be, all about ‘winning’. No appreciation of the wider context in which football exists. Instead the game becomes something to be endured, a mere exercise in garnering points. Only success in that narrow way can bring them relief until the next game, the next opportunity to ‘fail’. Anticipation becomes dread. Sad.
Yes, we all get upset by defeat but it wasn’t always as miserable as this. All or nothing. Football is a game. We should enjoy it. We need the maturity to accept defeat without believing that the World has ended. Move on, look forward to the next time. Football fans have always done this. It’s time to regain the joy of the game. The winning will be all the sweeter.
A man who knew a bit about real crises, Winston Churchill, said:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”.
Next year we will win the Premiership. Well, I think we have a good chance. I’m sure of one thing though, we’ll win it a damn sight more often than 95% of other clubs.