From Despair to Where as the song says. As I write, the banner article on the official website contains the ramifications for the Qualifying Round of the Champions League. Full on espresso depresso and the starkest visual illustration of just how disappointing the last few months have been.
Disappointment is all relative of course; the media would have you believe Messrs Redknapp and Dalglish cry gems, shit rubies and fart diamonds yet their sides are safely ensconced outside of the top four, peering longingly through the velvet rope at us, wishing our misery at finishing 4th was their restorative glory.
I try to keep perspective over the whole piece of a season and, it has to be said in the crudest of terms – our expenditure on player wages is fourth highest in the league and it looks as though we will finish fourth. We’re about where we should be. Bear in mind Arsenal are one of the few top flight clubs that list all staff in their wage bill, not just players’ wages. The picture some have tried to paint regarding our salary expenditure of late is somewhat distorted as a result.
But of course the dissatisfaction is two fold. Firstly, the circuitous route we’ve taken to get to ‘about where we should be.’ You think you’re going on holiday to Disneyland Florida, only for your parents to stop the car and say, “Here we are kids, Kidderminster. What? Well I’m sorry if you heard Disneyland Florida, but I definitely said Kidderminster.”
Expectation is the midwife to disappointment. The thing is, we all know the manager is a lot better than “about where we should be.” I think the team are too. In my book, any side that stays in the title race until late April has the talent to win it. But come April, a little bit more than talent is required to push you over the line. For whatever the reason, that’s where Arsenal keep coming up short.
I’ve found my opinions on the team shape shifting over the last few weeks. Back in March, I wrote on these pages that, come May, we could “psychoanalyse the living fuck out of (the Carling Cup Final defeat).” Well, May is here and it doesn’t exactly take Jacques Lacan to see that the players have not dealt with that disappointment. As it was, I was beginning to get mildly tetchy that it has taken them such a ball achingly long time for them to dry their eyes. But the last two games have made me confront some opinions I’m not comfortable with holding.
The Carling Cup Final defeat didn’t seem to be much of a factor when we deservedly beat Manchester United a fortnight ago. They played with freedom and conviction and all took responsibility – even in the absence of Fabregas. Yet they weren’t able to replicate that endeavour against either Stoke or Aston Villa. This brings me to the sad conclusion that motivation is as much a factor as any mawkish self pity. I think that spells bigger problems than I had previously allowed myself to believe.
I decided to stay and applaud for the lap of appreciation on Sunday. I don’t judge those that didn’t. I do however find it embarrassing that some stayed simply to boo. Whatever the team’s flaws this season (and remember it’s not like we’ve been relegated), I just find that childish, spoilt and spiteful. Seriously, those of you that stayed to boo; next time, just hurl some toys onto the pitch. Do you still throw your vegetables across the dinner table too?
I simply don’t remember such a disenchanted Arsenal crowd since the last days of George Graham. But even then, the atmosphere was one of weary apathy. This feels a lot more poisonous and combustible. Pockets of groans have always been audible, but the chant of “6 per cent, you’re having a laugh” was choreographed, orchestrated and taken up in unison. Everybody was on the same page. It was the ultimate denouncement for the team, the manager, the board, the club. Live on Sky Sports too, beamed around the globe in damning THX. There’s a famous quote attributed to Julius Caesar, “It is not these well-fed long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and the hungry-looking.” The people spoke on Sunday.
Usually, I’m not the type of person to flatter myself that I am some kind of body language expert. I know it’s very vogue today to use the ferocity with which a player waves to make broad, sweeping conclusions about their exact state of mind. But I looked over to Arsene on the bench shortly after Darren Bent’s second goal. He sat forlornly in the dugout. His arms crossed, his legs crossed, his posture slumped back into his seat. Like a man waiting for a bus that is, by now, incredibly late.
It seemed deliberate somehow, designed to express his exasperation at his players. “What else can I tell you?” His face as he hurriedly titubated across the pitch for the lap of appreciation was one of an immensely frustrated man. I haven’t enjoyed seeing him like this over the last few weeks. I am now of the opinion that the axe is going to swing on a fair few players in the summer. An opinion that – even a fortnight ago – I did not subscribe to.
The club appears to be stuck in something of a rut at the moment- albeit a quite nicely furnished rut with all mod cons, plenty of food on the table and holidays abroad. But I still back the manager to light the blue touch paper and elevate the club above their desirable semi detached and into the sort of accommodation that would have MTV’s Cribs OMGing into its smart phone and jizzing all over its iPad.
I can’t rationally explain why I maintain that conviction, but I think both on the training ground and in the market place, we will see the desired changes. Arsene is a great manager and great managers do not become bad managers overnight. There is something I’ve seen in his face recently that suggests to me that the gloves are about to come off.
You can call that blind faith if you like, but frankly, Blind Faith wrote a fucking immense album in 1969 and I didn’t see any of you complaining then. That’ll about do from me this week. Hope to see some of you at Fulham on Sunday- either in the local hostelries or inside Craven Cottage. Mine’s a Guinness. Up the Arse. LD.
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