Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Connecting …

In the last few weeks of his time at the club, Unai Emery spoke more than once about needing to connect with the fans again. It all felt a bit too little, too late. The funk we were in would ultimately cost him his job, and at that point there was almost nothing he could have done to change his fate. Apart from winning games, but he couldn’t do that. Hence the reason Mikel Arteta is now in charge.

The new boss spoke well last week as he was announced, and it was interesting to note that some people who had very understandable concerns and reservations about his lack of experience were somewhat reassured by the communication. Clearly what matters most is results and performances, but understanding the message that is being given certainly helps.

Ahead of Chelsea, Arteta has spoken about needing to rebuild a connection with the fans, and how ‘powerful’ it would be to do that:

First I need to convince the players and then, if I can convince the players, afterwards we can convince the fans. I think it’s very, very important in my job. I was really pleased with how the fans treated the players [at Bournemouth] and I was happy that the players went to see the fans after the game as well because we need that connection.

Slowly, we need to build that back to where it was. It’s going to be very powerful for us to use that.

There’s a kind of chicken and egg thing that goes on with fans and a team. Some believe that when things are really bad, that’s when supporters have a duty to lift the players. It’s a kind of romantic ideal though, because it’s completely ignores human nature and context. If a team is playing well and loses one game in 20, it’d be very harsh to boo, but if a team hasn’t won in an ages and is playing dreadfully, it’s natural for fans to express discontent with that.

However, the concept of fans and a team as one mass of togetherness, united against a common enemy (e.g whoever it is you’re playing), is a really great one when it happens. It doesn’t happen just because someone says it should though, it’s a kind of organic thing. The team produces ongoing performances and results that create a kind of belief. Or something occurs during a match that causes it – a refereeing decision, an opponent becoming the lightning rod for supporter opprobrium etc. That’s maybe a shorter-term example, and I think what Arteta is trying to do is create something much more substantial.

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but part of the reason I’ve been so on board with hiring him is because I feel we’re now in a position where we can step back, take stock and rebuild. I didn’t enjoy much about the Unai Emery era, to be honest. I never really connected with him as a person, and I don’t know that there was much to like about the football he produced. There were occasional performances and moments within games which were enjoyable, but week in, week out I found myself ground down by watching Arsenal.

That’s really not a nice place to be with your football club. I also don’t say this to be critical of Emery, it’s just the way I felt. It’s not that I didn’t care about results, of course I did, but there was a kind of detachment that made watching us a bit of a chore. For me, having some belief in what your team can achieve and what it can become is crucial. I think back to those epic games against United in the late 90s/early 00s, and part of the reason they were so incredible is because you knew that despite how good they were, we had the potential to beat them.

When that’s flipped entirely the other way around, when you look at any opposing team – regardless of their perceived stature or place in the table – and think they have the potential to beat you, it’s a strange sensation. It’s not pleasant, and it’s not that I think Arsenal have the right to think they just need to turn up to beat the so-called smaller teams, but when you see us contrive to make a complete bollix of a game again and again, it’s a bit wearing to say the least.

The team/fan connection is unquestionably a symbiotic relationship. I think Arteta will ensure that doing simple, basic things like acknowledging support – particularly on days when things don’t go well – becomes the norm. Maybe it’s not huge in the grand scheme of things, but it’s important. Perhaps it’s just me, but I’d love to see him reintroduce the shirt sleeves tradition – in which the captain choose long or short, and everyone wears the same. It’s not going to make you win more games or make you play better, but it’s something that was unique to us, and a part of our history that got lost along the way for no good reason.

Small things can resonate a lot with supporters. Generating goodwill gives you time and patience to sort out issues. And right now, we have a lot of those. There’s a monstrous amount of work to do, and a mid-season change of manager means the conditions to implement significant change not exactly optimal. His communication will play a part, but when it comes right down it, how we play and what we do on the pitch will be main driver.

I’m just ready for something new. Even if we have to tear most of it down to rebuild, I’d rather that as a clear plan than muddling along trying to find short-term fixes to long-term problems. If you give fans something to properly believe in, you bring them with you on that journey, and the process will be smoother. Let’s hope so anyway.

I’ll leave you with a brand new Arsecast below, discussing Arteta’s first game, and a few other bits and pieces along the way.

And if you fancy something else to listen to, on Patreon we have an exclusive new podcast in which we look at 2010-2020: A decade of banter, which includes such gems as Denilson being overtaken by a referee, signing a player with a broken back, some iffy transfers, death threats from South Korea, scoring a goal in the 98th minute of a game and still not winning, and loads more.

For instant access to that and all the other content, plus a free audio-book download of Together: The Story of Arsenal’s Unbeaten Season, ad-free podcasts, ad-free apps for iOS and Android, and more, sign up at patreon.com/arseblog for just €5 per month.

Right, enjoy the regular pod, back tomorrow with a Chelsea preview.

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