Saturday, 21 May 2011

Gunner vs Gooner

I have never known a week like it

Banter amongst rival fans is one thing, but last Sunday I took the unusual step of switching off my phone half an hour into our game against Aston Villa . Not because I was afraid of the texts from Spurs or Chelsea fans. Not even because I didn’t wish to be tormented by Man Utd fans still celebrating their 19 th title last Saturday.

No I switched off my phone to avoid confrontation with fellow Arsenal fans. Friends, close friends, the type who share a laugh and sigh as we follow our beloved Gunners together, but not last Sunday. It had been coming. The last few weeks, with the exception of that glorious afternoon on May 1 st , have been a horrible journey as we have jointly watched as our team self destructed from chasing four trophies at the end of February to another season of regret and sadness.

No trophies. Again. The scenes at the end of last Sunday’s match were amongst the most shameful I have ever had to witness as an Arsenal fan. To watch as a few thousand Arsenal fans stayed behind after the final whistle to abuse our players on their traditional lap of honour (or appreciation as its been referred to this week) was my saddest experience as a Gooner. Yes even topping the personal heartbreak I experienced watching us go so close in Paris . Sure enough I switched on the phone a short while later and not a single rival fan had bothered to leave a text. Quite tragic when we are so bad that we don’t even warrant any banter from our rivals anymore. But that didn’t mean my phone didn’t stop alerting me to the text messages I had waiting for me, from fellow Arsenal fans. The Arsenal civil war had begun.

I lashed out spectacularly. I accused one of not being fit to call himself an Arsenal fan, a few more of being a glory hunter’s, and another of being a fake fickle follower who abandoned us when the going got too tough. I stand by those sentiments today and make no apologies for the tone of my outburst. Let me first put my observations into context. As collapses go, this was right up there with Devon Loch and Newcastle United . Of course it saddened me to watch us go so close, to be so near yet so far to finally landing that elusive trophy after six agonising years. However I refuse to condemn my team too harshly because despite the way we have finished the season, we are still set to qualify for the Champions League for a 14 th successive year. Not even AC Milan and Barcelona can match that, let alone Chelsea and Liverpool. I believe the reason for Arsenal’s failiure to win the league this season has been down to our woeful home form. The performances away from the Emirates have been enough to secure the title, we’ve had one of our best away campaigns in years. The reason we are not planning for a trophy parade next weekend is down to the “fans” at the Emirates. The groans, booing, and general lack of support whenever we have not been 2-0 up after 25 minutes of “winnable” games is destructive and a cancer which I think the time has come to address.

I don’t buy into this argument that Arsenal are a poor team, how can we be? For any team to beat Barcelona, Man Utd and Chelsea at the Emirates in the same season has to be a special side. But the reason we succeeded in those games while failing so miserably against the likes of Newcastle, West Brom and of course Aston Villa is down to the kind of support we have been receiving. When Arsenal were 1-0 down after 65 minutes against Barcelona, all you could hear was the crowd crying “Come on Arsenal”. We know what happened next. Now think of the match against Newcastle at home? Boos at half time, more abuse at full time, and yet we are meant to be surprised? Arsenal fans are not stupid and realise that Barcelona are a great side, arguably the best in the world. But the club needs the kind of support and encouragement whether we are playing Chelsea or Crewe.

The past six years have been challenging. Though let’s not fool ourselves here. Yes we are a big club, but we haven’t successfully defended a league title since the 1930’s. The facts are that the period between 1998 and 2005 represent the most glittering and rewarding chapter of our long and proud history. The trophies only tell half the story, the records go a bit further . But the very fact that the slogan which became associated with Arsenal and still is true today is not the “boring boring boring Arsenal” I grew up around, but the “Arsenal always score” mantra which is almost always correct. Granted we have had a few bad days at the office this season, a few more than usual when it comes to scoring, but we are still right up there in terms of goals scored in the league.

Cast your minds back just under 20 years ago and we were managing 40 goals a season. Just about a goal a game. The dark old days when our goal difference was in single figures. There has been a re-emergence recently of an almost romantic vision of the gorgeous George Graham days. Possibly helped in turn by comments from that not so loveable rogue (and boyhood Chelsea fan) Paul Merson. George led the team to the first trophy in my lifetime , so despite the funny looking brown envelopes stuffed with cash , he will always retain a special place in my personal Arsenal history. No arguments there. Though to suddenly reminisce back to his management as some kind of golden era of silverwear and rich memories is not only distorting history, its borderline insulting. 2 league titles, an FA Cup, 2 league cups and 1 European Cup Winners Cup. We qualified for the European Cup once and missed out on the very first Champions League courtesy of an embarrassing defeat at home to Benfica who comprehensively put us to the sword in our own back yard . The Cup Winners Cup was always seen as the easiest of European trophies to win, hence the reason why it is not even contested anymore.

I’m not being horrible, just reflecting the reality for what it is. We were a team who only challenged for the title when we actually ended up winning it . In between we had some really awful seasons. One season we were actually talked of as part of the relegation battle. I will never forget the feature on London Tonight in 1995 (around the time when Graham was entering the final days of his reign) when they were actually discussing the possibility of Arsenal dropping out of the top flight for the first time since 1919. This is why I can’t tolerate people abusing our players, condemning the club, demanding the board be replaced or that Wenger be sacked. I can’t take these fickle little cretins as serious Arsenal fans. I have told them as such this week: if you don’t like it then get yourself down to the shop and go and buy a Chelsea or Man City shirt, because we really don’t want nor need your “support”. We are paying off a brand new stadium while retaining our position in the elite group of English football by always finishing in the top four. If we were debt free, finishing in 8 th place and empty handed maybe I would follow these Neanderthals. Even then it would have to be successive seasons; surely even the messiah is allowed one bad season.