Friday, 24 February 2012

Invincibles to Invisibles

Sorry Arsenal fans, but it's been a slow day, there's little to write about and that's a dam good pun.

I'm going to start with a stat you may not have heard before. If Arsenal do not win a trophy this season (and they won't, unless the Premier League turns into Serie A and the top three teams are found guilty of match-fixing), it will be seven years since the North London side won a "proper" trophy. Bet you weren't ready for that. The last time Arsenal touched silverware was the 21st of May 2005.

On that day, Akon was at number one in the UK with "Lonely", Paris looked likely to host the 2012 Olympics, Australia were two weeks from landing in the UK for their defence of the Ashes and Ryan Giggs probably hadn't shagged his brothers wife yet. That's a long, long time in anything, but in football, that's an eternity.

Just twelve months before, Arsenal were the envy of the Premier League and most of Europe. That year, they swept all before them to win the Premier League title from Claudio Ranieri's (wtf?!) Chelsea. That season, Arsenal were unbeaten in the league, ought to have won the F.A Cup but lost to a Tim Howard and Eric Djemba-Djemba inspired Man United and were knocked out by Chelsea in the Champions League by Wayne Bridge's (again, wtf?!) late winner. That season, the main song on the FIFA game was Red Morning Light by Kings of Leon. That was such a long time ago, I've come over all nostalgic, I may play some snake on my Nokia 3410 or imitate the Crazy Frog like everyone else did.

The policy employed by Wenger and Arsenal in the mid 2000's was incredible: buy youthful, talented footballers, develop them into superstars and then create a team, where the importance of football artistry and respect for team-mates was drilled into the young players (hahahaha). It brought unprecedented success in 2004, an F.A Cup in 2005 and almost a Champions League in 2006. But at this point, something should have changed, as patterns were emerging. Once Arsenal had developed a player to their peak, a combination of a responsible - but unambitious - wage structure and an emphasis on style over substance led to both near misses and high-profile departures. In 2005, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires left the club. In 2006, Ashley Cole left the club. In 2007, Thierry Henry left the club. In 2011, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and most importantly, Emmanuel Eboue left the club. Arsenal's insistence on achieving self-sufficiency has led to a profitable but ultimately un-competitive team, which now - ironically - leaves the club facing financial problems.

Right, there's all the research and the nostalgia out the way, let's talk about the now. Let's have a go at Arsenal fans for a cheap laugh.

The first set of fans are those I like to call "the deluded". These are the Arsenal fans who will never EVER criticise Arsenal or Arsene Wenger. They will say things like "you have to get behind the team no matter what", "Wenger should have the job for life/is always right" or "Arshavin isn't that bad". I have to say that the loyalty of these fans is to be commended as yes, one should always support the team, one should always trust their manager and one should always encourage the players. But these fans are simply terrified of change, and it is this attitude which is ultimately holding Arsenal back. After each failure, due to a mental fragility as obvious as Nicki Minaj's lack of talent, something had to change. Unfortunately, the departure of David Dein at the head of the club and the continued presence of Pat Rice has given Arsene Wenger a number of talented but meek "yes-men". It's like the world's most un-threatening dictatorship, like if Boris Johnson was the head of the Nazi party.

Then we have the stupid fans, who are in constant conflict with the deluded. These fans are the ones who boo at half-time when Arsenal are only drawing. These fans are the ones who refuse to recognise any of Arsene Wenger's past achievements and insist upon his immediate withdrawal from the club. These fans are Piers Morgan. SIDE-NOTE: Everyone who reads this who is on twitter, feel free to tweet this to Piers. I hate stupid fans more then the deluded ones. The deluded supporters at least believe their own bullshit and show a kind of tragic loyalty while the world laughs at them. The stupid fans are not really fans at all. These fans are only likely to show their support via your Facebook news feed when Arsenal defeat your team. They are the fans likely to start "Wenger out" chants, while fickle fans nod or clap along....or tell you to be quiet, coz there's a game on.

There are also some Arsenal fans who are jolly good chaps, and if you're reading this and you're an Arsenal fan, you're one of them. So well done you.

Although I bear no allegiance to Arsenal, I prefer them to Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea, much in the same way I prefer a Fruit Pastille to a bear, a snake or a Jehovah's Witness. But that's the problem! The testimony to how far Arsenal have sunk is how revered and admired they are by neutral fans. As Paul Merson once said, (when he wasn't off his tits) "everyone likes Arsenal coz they don't win nuffink". Profound.

So then we come to this weekend's game. After losing two "must-win" games in a row, Arsenal find themselves with a third, as neighbours Tottenham come to the Emirates. Unlike in previous seasons, this game means more to Arsenal than it does to Tottenham, and Spurs arguably go into the game as slight favourites. The doom bells won't be ringing if Arsenal lose, but serious questions will need to be asked. If Arsenal finish behind a Chelsea team run by a manager with the authority of an alcoholic supply teacher or a Liverpool team with Stewart Downing in it, there are problems.

It's only fair that I finish with my own opinion of Arsenal and Wenger. Arsenal are and always will be a great team and their philosophy - although fragile - is one to which all teams should aspire to in a perfect world. But this isn't a perfect world. We have Lady Gaga in this world.

My opinion is that Arsenal should not sack Wenger, not because of what he has done, but what he could still do. He is one of the best managers of all time, but, like Sir Alex Ferguson has had to do at Manchester United, he has to adjust his principles. As good a servant as Pat Rice has been to the club, his role needs to be changed so that Arsenal have a coach who will challenge the manager. It's all very well saying "Arsenal need leaders" but that won't come without a challenge to Wenger's dominance of the club. 

Until then, Arsenal will flatter to deceive, do just enough to scrape by, but ultimately stagnate. If Arsenal's ambition is to break even and be a fine business model, they should maintain the status quo. If Arsenal wish to build a legacy like in 2004, if they wish to actually win something, then something must change. And by change, that does not mean simply recycling declining great players from days gone by. As always, I am a sour, cynical man, but the Thierry Henry loan to me was a desperate gamble which - although it technically paid off - is synonymous of a current ethos of papering over the cracks. Thierry Henry is dam fine paper, but  Arsenal is a dam big crack (hahahaha).

I hope this hasn't come across as an excuse to wind up Arsenal fans, as I have genuine sympathy for many of them and I hope they beat Tottenham.

But I hate you. I hate you all.

Feel free to comment!

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