Another week, another disappointment. I undertook this column the week before the Carling Cup Final last February and it’s kind of felt like I’ve been firefighting an overwhelming tide of negativity ever since. That’s not necessarily because I have felt positive about what we have witnessed over the last twelve months per se. As far as I am concerned, being determinedly positive or relentlessly negative as a default position evidences jaundiced thinking. That informs my total disdain for these little camps Arsenal fans appear to have entrenched themselves into.
Whether it’s blind support of the manager or furious contempt, it’s pathetic. The members of each of these silly cults proffer their chosen point of view as hills from which they stand. But really they’re caves in which they hide. Maybe that sounds arrogant and dismissive. It probably is. I am at about half past give a shit at this stage. But I sense that something has changed this week, with the confirmation that our silverware hunt (not so much a ‘hunt’ really as a mournful look under the sofa cushions) is over for another year.
There is a palpable sense, not of mutiny or anger, but of resignation or, dare I say it, boredom. In the coming weeks, we will be told that 4th place is the Holy Grail and the most important target of our season. Certainly, if one is to look at the AST’s financial analysis of the club you can see why too. Maybe I’m spoiled. Maybe I’m just bored. I don’t know, but the chase for 4th isn’t one that fills me with a great deal of excitement.
Whilst I think most supporters fully understand the contextual rewards of qualifying for the Champions League, the game is also about glory and nothing about Arsenal has felt particularly glorious over the last few years, as the Groundhog Day unravelling of the season comes to pass every spring. Arsenal have, in essence, become the materially very wealthy, but emotionally undernourished child that ends up in therapy. I am wracked with guilt bemoaning my 40 inch television screen and plush furnishings, but it feels like a long time since I played with my friends in the garden and scaled fences and scraped my knees.
This perhaps explains why I pithily refuse to regard finishing outside the top 4 as a doomsday scenario at the moment. I think Tim Clark at Arse2Mouse really hit upon something with this piece. I can’t buy the Champions League myth as much as I used to. We’re told the additional revenue is our lifeblood. Yet we don’t ever seem to plough that revenue into the team. We’re told we need that carrot to attract star players. Yet we don’t shop for established names anyway. (Not criticising that per se, it’s still a useful transfer policy when we actually action it).
Every summer a few more star players peel away, so it’s clearly not enough of a beacon for retention of our best players. The more I deliberate, the more I think the Europa League might not be such a bad thing for Arsenal. Frankly, our chances of winning the Champions League are negligible. We would have a good shot at winning the Europa League. A good Europa League run would produce a number of benefits. The chief of which, thinking slightly parochially, would be to inject some excitement back into following Arsenal for the supporters.
As it stands, we make up the numbers. They’re well heeled numbers, with all mod cons and a constant supply of Ferrero Rocher, but I guess it’s become dry standing at the back of Earl’s Court when I fancy getting in the moshpit at the Electric Ballroom. I don’t fear a huge exodus in the event of failure to qualify for the Champions League. With the exception of van Persie, I don’t honestly believe there would be a huge clamour for our players anyway. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying, but maybe without the guarantee of that revenue, we will be forced to make efficiencies on the £130m wage bill – which might not be apocalyptic in its consequences either.
Winning is a habit and I guess a good Europa League run could help the club reconnect with its raison d’etre. We’re a very well run business for sure, but we seem to have lost the purpose of being well run – to facilitate our ability to compete. It feels rather like we’re happy to stand still. It’s not short term gratification I am after. At least I don’t think it is. I’m just not as convinced as I used to be that 4th place is the Yellow Brick Road. That said, if we secure 4th on the last day of the season, I don’t doubt that I’ll be very happy about it. Fickle bunch, us football fans.
I accept that, in my current mood, I am probably being incredibly wide eyed and naïve about the real consequences of finishing outside of the top 4. Especially if we spend more than one season outside of it. With sponsorship deals to be renegotiated in 2014, the reality of that scenario may see us struggle to come close to competing for years. Maybe I’ve become a bit jaded of talking about Arsenal as a business.
I know we are one and I realise the importance of being a good one too. But somewhere I feel the club has lost the balance. At this moment in time, I find it hard to separate whether I want the club to wake up from its slumber, or for them to wake me from mine. I probably won’t find out until May whether this blog is a call to arms or a self piteous whine. I’m sure you will have your own impressions. I mean, I think Radiohead have written some of the most haunting, achingly beautiful music ever committed to record. Some people think they’re just a bunch of miserablist jizz bags. Different strokes for different folks.
One thing I do know that will lift me out of my Thom Yorke-esque howl and into a Jagger style strut would be a victory over Tottenham this weekend. I think, at least in part, some of the angst over our sludge of a season has been exacerbated by the fact that Tottenham have done very well. So much so that many have completely abandoned the idea that St. Totteringham’s Day will have a place in the calendar in 2012. Anything less than a victory on Sunday will virtually confirm the passing of that annual holiday.
A ten point (or more) cushion with twelve games left would mean that even Tottenham’s famed pant filling tendencies wouldn’t be enough for us to overhaul them. You have to give them their dues; I really believed they were going to run out of steam after Christmas. However, even if they do finish in the Champions League places at our expense this year, I don’t believe it will yield any long term shift in power. The guts of the Spurs squad is either advanced in years (Friedel, Gallas, Parker, King, Saha, Nelsen) or borrowed (Adebayor).
Harry is and always has been a short term manager and they will have a rebuilding job to do at the same time that they will attempt to erect a new stadium. But in the much shorter term, it’s crucial that they are sent home on Sunday with bruised pride and tanned behinds. Those cocks have been crowing a little too loud for a little too long and vengeance is owed. To get within seven points and to defeat them may just put that little bit of bowel clenching doubt into them and reinvigorate our own season with a bit of purpose for the run in.
I was tempted to entitle this column Every Day Is Like Sunday. But if this Sunday can be taken up with beating Spurs, I’ll take that every day of the week. So long as beating Spurs doesn’t become the focal point of our campaign again for a long time. Until next week. LD.
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