Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Good vibes only?

Leaving the Emirates on Monday, I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer the matchday feel-good factor will last. 

It would be a stretch to say the atmosphere was raucous – midweek showdowns with average opposition rarely are – but much like the other fixtures this season, it was a notch up on the decibel level compared to equivalent fixtures of recent years. 

I can’t be the only season ticket holder who, after the Covid-enforced separation, saw the Chelsea game as an opportunity to renew my vows. Not everybody did, of course. After a couple of traumatic seasons and the world turning upside down, the annual terrace churn appears to have been more significant than usual and the younger blood on the pitch is being mirrored in the stands. 

I know I’m getting older, but it definitely feels like the average age of those around me has dropped and some of that youthful exuberance is translating to more of a willingness to ‘stand up if you hate Tottnum’ and to share the news that ‘Mike Dean’s a wanker, everywhere he goes…everywhere he goes.’ 

Anecdotally, I’ve heard stories of people way, way, way down the season ticket waiting list being offered the chance to take one up this summer. Maybe newbie excitement has put a pep in the mood or perhaps the improvements to the Ticket Exchange process are paying dividends with some of the previously empty seats now being filled by enthusiastic opportunists. It’s hard to say. 

The two-for-one beers before kick-off are definitely doing their bit, the weather has been pretty good – particularly on north London derby day – and of course, by the end of the transfer window, we had a new-look squad with a few unknown quantities to run the rule over. The sight of Takehro Tomiyasu being presented with his September player of the month award before the Palace game is a testament to how well he’s done since arriving from Bologna but also a tip of the cap to how much we football fans love shiny new things. 

I think all the above contributed to the way the Emirates reacted to Alex Lacazette’s last-gasp equaliser. Despite an evening of frustratingly turgid football, the place went barmy for 30-seconds. 

Laca said afterwards that he wanted to wake up the ‘sleepy’ crowd. Having done so, he didn’t waste the chance to celebrate. He charged to the corner flag arms pumping, executed a perfect knee slide and then found himself mobbed by ecstatic teammates and the limbs of Block D. Everybody fed off the Frenchman’s energy. 

Even in the usually sedate seats of Block 101, a bearded man with glasses took the opportunity to fling a few short, sharp wanker signs at the Palace fans who’d been getting on his tits with their piss-taking songs and general cockiness. He too was loving it. Who was that man taking on his chosen enemy from 150 yards? I prefer not to speak. 

The reaction was in marked contrast to a Lacazette stoppage-time equaliser that snatched a 2-2 draw with Southampton a couple of years back. I know the circumstances weren’t exactly the same – Unai Emery’s death march was well underway – but on that occasion, a threadbare crowd mustered a collective shrug, the goal scorer didn’t bother celebrating (to the point you wondered if his strike actually counted) and when the game ended moments later, there were prolonged boos. 

Sure, there were a smattering of boos when Mike Dean blew his whistle on Monday but many fans stuck around to applaud the players and the grumbling was reserved for the shuffle back to the tube station. 

As a natural pessimist, I’m trying to embrace the good vibes, to cherish this season’s little wins (even if they’re actually draws), to remind myself of the need to be patient, to roll with the punches and to not press send on the angriest of my post-game Twitter hot takes. 

It’s easier said than done, mostly because I can’t shake the nagging sense that we’re a team that’s struggling to improve and currently worse than the sum of its parts. I don’t think my eyes are lying to me. As much as we all enjoyed the win over Sp*rs, performance-wise it looks like a real outlier. Nothing else has come close. We play very drab football. 

Right now, I just have a lot of questions. Why do we so regularly struggle to create chances? Why has Kieran Tierney’s form fallen off a cliff? Why does Thomas Partey look like a world-beater one moment and a knock-off John Jensen the next? Are we a team that plays out from the back or not? Are we supposed to be playing a high press? If Saka is more effective on the right, why does he play on the left so much? By the time we’ve figured any of the above out, will Newcastle have won the Champions League? 

It really is all eyes on Mikel Arteta between now and Christmas. The owners gave the manager the players he wanted, he has ample time to prepare them each week and, for the most part, a near clean bill of health. Having had plenty of legitimate excuses during his tenure, we’re now at the point where he has none. 

Three points on Friday against Villa is an absolute must or I suspect the newspaper back pages will again be adorned with broken cannon motifs. 

On the subject of broken cannons, a lot of people on social media have pointed out that the giant club crests at Emirates stadium are looking pretty worn after 15 years. Not only that, the external player wrap has faded badly. 

I raised both points and a few others about our ‘housekeeping’ in an email to CEO Vinai Venkatesham back in May and he was quick to confirm that the club plans to refurb/replace them at some point during this season. 

He also mentioned the PA system would be overhauled “so you can actually hear that” and the upper tier concession stands will be upgraded so that they can serve draft beer. 

Further down the line, they plan to look at the stadium’s roof and the big screens but the costs of the work is being spread due to the financial effects of Covid-19. I should point out, this was communicated to me before our spending on new players hit £120 million.

Given the prices people pay to watch Arsenal, it’s embarrassing to hear that the big screen in the Clock End wasn’t working on Monday night and the apology was missed because the sound system is so bad. Now that they’ve spruced up the home dressing room, they might want to turn their attention to something more pressing! 

Right, enough from me. Blogs will be back tomorrow, Until next time.

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