Friday, August 19, 2022

We’ll be back

As it was the final home game of the season there were microphones and cameras-a-plenty which means we’ve got a considerable amount of material from the players today.

You can call it damage limitation or PR, I guess, but I don’t know what else you could expect at the moment. In the programme Cesc thanked the fans for their support throughout the season, while SZCZ apologised for another pot-less campaign:

This is one of the biggest clubs in the world and we should be winning trophies every year. So I totally understand the frustration of the fans, and we apologise for our lack of trophies this season.

Robin van Persie bemoaned our lack of consistency while Thomas Vermaelen spoke about the first period of the Aston Villa game but could very well have been talking about the whole season:

Our mentality was not good enough and I don’t think we can accept that as an Arsenal side. We should work on that because it’s not good enough.

It’s easy to dismiss as just words that have come too late but what else can they say? That there’s an awareness of where things went wrong has to be looked on as some kind of positive, I guess. All the same the fans, and I’m sure everyone else, would prefer less talking off the pitch and more on it, but there’s not much we can do about that now. The season is almost at an end, the summer will allow us to take stock and make moves to put things right.

Personally, I hope this is our rock bottom. Whatever justifications there are for what happened, the booing, the protests, the people who stayed behind to jeer the players on the ‘lap of appreciation/shame/excruciating awfulness’, that these things have happened should make anyone sad that things have gone so wrong at the football club we all claim to love. I’m not trying to ignore the problems, far from it, but I prefer life when things don’t go so askew they provoke such extreme reactions.

There was an awful lot of ‘told you so’ the last couple of days, which is understandable because there were people who were taking a consistently negative stance about the team for the duration of the season. If there’s a pleasure to be taken from turning around after the fact and declaring your genius to the world then who am I to deny that to anyone? I just never saw the point of being so down on them when we were second in the league and still in the mix.

That’s not to say what happened was some great shock to me, it wasn’t. I feared it after what we’ve seen in seasons past but I hoped that this time we might do better. In the end we didn’t, and it hurts and I’m as disappointed as anyone, but really, I can live without being told how right you were all along as if you were some kind of soothsaying genius. If you were you’d have your own website predicting future events with such accuracy you would soon become the world’s richest man/woman.

Step back and look at what’s happening.

– The relationship between the club and the fans is at its lowest ebb in years. The club have done themselves no favours in this regard. Sending out season ticket increases followed by invitations to spend more money watching Fever Pitch on the hallowed turf just after being beaten by Stoke smacks of a lack of awareness or shoddy PR. Add to that the constantly mistimed articles on the official website and somebody really needs to have a word. Call me, 555-Arseblog, I’d be happy to advise.

– The relationship between the fans and the manager is as bad as it has ever been. A now considerable percentage want  him to be replaced, those that want him to stay accept that he’s got to change his ways, and there’s the fear that such change is beyond him. It hurts to see Arsene like this but that’s the reality of it.

– The relationship between players and fans is tricky. There’s little or no tolerance for the usual suspects, about whom questions of character and ability are constantly asked, while even those players whose commitment and talent is not open to question can find themselves on the wrong end of abuse on sites like Twitter and in blog comment sections. Granted, both of those places provide a platform for the lowest common denominator when it comes to online discourse (while not ignoring the many fine and intelligent contributors either!), but it goes some way to create the atmosphere of unrest.

– And worst of all, the relationship between Arsenal fan and Arsenal fan is strained. If you don’t want Wenger out you’re a know-nothing, AKB. If you want him gone you’re a fool for ignoring all the great work he’s done in the past. If you step back and assess our problems, you’re making excuses. If you call for serious change you’re a shit-stirring reactionary. It’s very hard these days to find the middle ground.

As I’ve said before it is possible to want the manager to stay and accept he’s flawed, made mistakes and is responsible for the lack of silverware. At the same time it should be possible to want a new manager without being on the end of abuse from those who want Arsene to stay. Some websites have fostered this polarisation and that’s fine, entirely up to them and I don’t doubt their commitment as fans or anything like it, but without some common sense, some manners and decency, and some willingness to listen to the viewpoint of others, you don’t have debate or discussion, you have slanging matches. Online civil war.

Again, I’m not trying to suggest that what happens online is representative of life in general but this is where we are today, if you’re reading this you probably know what I’m talking about. And there are issues in ‘real’ life too, fans at each others throats in the stadium, newly formed protest groups and, going back to back to the ‘lap of whatever’, fans who will stay behind after the final game of the league season simply to boo and jeer the players.

You might say they deserve it, entirely your prerogative, but that it has come to that point suggests to me that things are, to put it in a technical way, a right fucking mess.

Can anyone enjoy this? Can anyone find any pleasure that things are as nasty as they are? Not me. That’s why I hope this is our rock bottom, that from here we can start rebuilding. And let’s be honest: there’s a fair bit of work to do, no doubt about it, but we haven’t been razed to the ground. At the worst we’re going to finish 4th, not good enough considering where we were, but it could be an awful lot worse.

There was enough talent and ability in that squad to get themselves into winning positions, into a cup final, and to beat United, Barcelona and Chelsea. There were highs. Sure, they might only exacerbate the lows right now, but we enjoyed them at the time, didn’t we? Yes, much needs to change but in the midst of the gloom and doom let’s not ignore that there are some good things too.

I’m not making excuses or trying to paper over cracks, far from it. Read the archives. I’m aware there are problems but I’ve tried to address those with common sense, not invective. Fourth is not good enough this season, the raised expectations were not the false hopes of deluded fans, they were based on our league position, on the manager’s rhetoric and the achievements of his past. It’s on those that he’s being judged. In the same way he’s now being judged on the seasons since our move to the Grove and the relative lack of success.

Yet I hope that over the coming months a bit of distance and a bit of time will help everyone put things right. The club, the manager, the players and the fans. Because we’ll all be back next season. Fuck it, we’ll all be back tomorrow and the day after and the day after. And maybe it’s naive of me but I have some faith in ‘The Arsenal’ to make things better, and we can all play a part in that.

Till tomorrow. And the day after and the … etc

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