For seven minutes during the North London Derby, Arsenal fans reached the nadir of their fortunes. In the span of seven minutes, Coquelin got sent off, Tottenham scored twice to take the lead and nearly scored a third. The title run was over. Arsenal were finished.
Then, Arsenal somehow struck back thanks to an uncharacteristic defensive mistake from Tottenham. Alexis summoned the form of 2014-15 for the first time in ages, making a fine run and slipping the ball past Lloris. The game ended 2-2. There was a brief respite until this week, when Arsenal lost 1-2 to Watford in the FA Cup on Sunday and face Barcelona at the Camp Nou today.
But in that disastrous seven minutes, I got incredibly angry about what had just transpired. It felt worse than falling apart in 2009-2010, or the 8-2 loss to Manchester United in 2011, or the 6-0 loss to Chelsea in Wenger’s 1,000th match. Arsenal had mentally fallen apart yet again, but this time it was to fucking Tottenham. Tottenham, the team with the powerful defense, young English superstars and acres of hope. Tottenham, the team (potentially) on the rise. Arsenal, the team stuck in place.
And yet, I shouldn’t be complaining. Arsenal are not terrible. They have won back-to-back two FA Cups, gone to the Champions League repeatedly and had an excellent run of consistency. We are not in as bad a situation as Manchester United or Chelsea. We have a proven manager and a squad that can keep the team in the top four for the foreseeable future. Arsenal has the financial resources to keep them in the hunt indefinitely, it seems, but they just cannot find a way to win the whole thing.
Contrast that to Aston Villa, who have cheapskate owners and a team that will be struggling to play well in the Championship next season. How about Fulham, a once-dangerous London club that has suffered an apocalyptic destruction? Birmingham City, the team that once upon a time stunned Arsenal in the League Cup, has been toiling in the Championship for years. This year’s Everton squad has disappointed their fans more than Arsenal’s. How can I argue being an Arsenal fan has been a long unbroken run of misery?
When I was young and restless in 2005, I jumped on the popular sports bandwagons of the day, meaning that I became a fan of the New York Mets and Arsenal. At that point, I had no idea how much distress and frustration these teams would cause me. I know better now. The Mets, now that is a team that whose fans have experienced a long run of misery. It was only broken last season (temporarily) until a disastrous loss in the World Series kept the Mets in their place. The Mets were basically Aston Villa for around 5-6 years and yet I still watched the majority of their games. That was true misery.
Yes, Arsenal’s form of misery strikes me as somewhat spoiled. And yet, it has been miserable. That anger is real and justified. The fanbase is difficult to please, but how can we help ourselves? We want to win the league, and in a season in which all of the big clubs have faltered, this should have been Arsenal’s year. Just like every fucking year of the last decade should have been Arsenal’s year.
False promises are just as painful as outright defeat, especially for a team that has lived the high life and dominated Britain and Europe in the past. Wenger says that the fans are too critical and that he would have to be God to please them. Sure, that may be accurate, but what were you expecting? Louis van Gaal could argue that the fans expect too much of him as well, given the injuries and thinness of his squad, but he isn’t doing that. He says the club owes the fans a performance, not the other way round.
Arsene, we’re not asking you to be God, we’re asking you to do your job properly. That simply hasn’t been the case this season. For the umpteenth year, the team has no depth at striker. Once again, the team has no depth in central midfield or defense either. Once again, the team looks lifeless and passive at the most critical points in the season. Time and time again, Arsenal fails to come up when it matters. If this was the case for one season, I could write it off as a fluke, but this is a pattern that has sustained itself for the last six or seven years.
At some point, someone has to take responsibility! Someone has to be culpable! You can’t just blame the fans, or the weather, or injuries every fucking time. Wenger refuses to be scapegoated for the performance of his team, and that honestly makes it worse. He is so arrogant, I would guess that he honestly does not think he has himself to blame for the exact same thing occurring every year. And perhaps that is true. Maybe he is just unlucky. Maybe Premier League managers really don’t matter as much as we think they do.
But the whole Wenger mystique is that managers actually matter a great deal. He claims that he alone built this club. Yeah, tell that to Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires, all my old heroes. If he built it, why does he constantly avoid culpability for the club’s sustained record of disappointment? Sure, he occasionally says it’s “his fault” when the team loses, but does anyone really believe him? He certainly does not think there is any structural problem in his thinking. Even now, in the midst of yet another late-season Arsenal collapse, he doesn’t think he should be criticized or feel under pressure.
Arsene believes his style and his philosophy will eventually win out, which means he almost always refuses to adapt his tactics and transfer strategy despite the situation. Arsenal never plays on the counter. Arsenal never signs durable players. Arsenal follows Wenger’s path, and that’s final. There has been no adaptation, no evolution of thinking. Wenger is just incapable of anyone telling him that it isn’t good enough.
So that’s why I’m angry. I would be fine if Wenger stays as long as he admits that his entire philosophy just has not worked and that he wants to change things. If that actually occurs and he goes through with it, then I’m fine with him staying on as manager. But if he continues his (characteristically French) cockiness and inflexible attitude, then he should be sacked or leave. There is no way the Kroenkes would do that, but that’s another issue for another column.
Arsenal plays Barcelona today. I expect Arsenal to lose in the same way they always do, through lack of mental discipline and passivity. That’s what happened last time. That is what will continue to happen.