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We’re the Painful Arsenal

This Sunday, I sat to watch West Brom v Arsenal on my brand new 55” 4K HD TV. My hope was that watching the Arsenal in high definition would at least bring some joy back to watching my team. Sadly, I was wrong. The match as it bore out was a dull affair that left little to be desired in terms of the Arsenal-brand of football.

If we’re honest there hasn’t been an Arsenal-brand of football for a while. Going back to our slow, painful decline from last December into March to now most Arsenal matches are painful to watch. Yes, there are the rare exceptions, v Chelsea, v United and the last match v Liverpool (for about 10 minutes.) The maddening component is that these rare performances used to be the norm. The continued turgid performances are emblematic of the larger problem(s) that beset Arsenal at this moment.

As eras or empires end, the fall from monumental heights is often not pretty. And as Arsene’s reign falls on its twilight, it has all the telltale signs of the end. In fact T.S. Eliot said it best at the close of his poem “The Hollow Men:”

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Full text of the Hollow Men (read it and tell me it doesn’t remind you of Arsenal)

It’s considered cliché to say that a manager has lost the dressing room. But can there really be any cause for such a run of continued poor performances? The players only look up for it when they want to be. Against lesser teams, the starting XI typically goes through the motions of playing. No urgency, no impetus to go forward, just laxidasical performances one after the other.

Now, I am quite sure Wenger goes into each training session with focus on the things he feels need to be cleaned up on. Any manager/coach does that at any level. You see what’s worked and what hasn’t and you fix it in training. The fact that none of it seems to be taking speaks to what the players think.

These are not stupid young men. Some may not be that talented but they can see the writing on the walls. They can see that the winds of change are coming. They see that the manager’s time is nearly at an end and that certain players are at an end and have to be thinking “it’s not worth it.”

As my good friend Brian (@GunnerFaithful) put it “We just play like emo kids that read way too much Nietzsche. Nihilistic overtone to a lot of our play.”

And it’s not just the on field product that feels this way. Today is the 2nd of January, the transfer window is wide open but I find myself remarkably unbothered by it. We either won’t do what’s necessary or if we do anything at all it won’t happen until 5 minutes before the window closes on 31 January.

This feeling is further fueled by Wenger’s comments today regarding our transfer activity. Essentially Wenger used his typical line of if we need to do something we’ll do it but it’s not only down to us. It’s a statement that makes you bury your hands in your head.

Sure, the reality is it takes two to tango. But you can get any partner to dance as long as you’re willing to put out for that partner. We are supposedly a club blessed with funds and the ability to do things financially for the players we want. We’ve seen glimpses of that but when it matters – like now we’ve yet to see any real impetus from the club. It kills you. We’ve been 2/3 signings away for time-immemorial now. How much longer can we let the gaps and quality in our squad suffer?

All of this combined with an absentee owner who sees us as nothing more than an investment makes the joy of being an Arsenal supporter quite painful. Sure, there are other supporters of other clubs that would love to have what we have going for us. But as time has built up certain expectations we as Arsenal supporters expect more from our club. We don’t expect to win every match or every title but we damn well better be competing for it. But for us the major honors are over before they normally begin.

Yes, the environment has changed and not many can go toe to toe with the financial clout of City, PSG, Bayern, United, and the Spanish duopoly. But you can at least through shrewd transfers, innovative ideas and training turn the players we have now into a competitive side.

It used to be that as an overseas Arsenal supporter I planned my day around the match. Nothing was as important as watching the match for me. It is the same for those who go I am sure (but they have paid a lot to be there.) But now, today, I find myself wondering if watching the Arsenal is worth it.

I love this team but it is just painful to watch and with no hope on the immediate horizon it’s a painful resignation that things just won’t get better until substantial changes have happened – everywhere.

You can argue that being in the Semifinal of the League Cup, and 3 out of the last 4 FA Cups are a worthy enterprise but this is Arsenal and we should be fighting for the top honors and we aren’t nor do we look any closer to doing so.

Meanwhile, the matches come, I watch with more fear of a loss than any time before. Even in the matches we should by all accounts win I suspect something dreadful will happen to snatch the result from us.

This is the slow, painful decline of an era and it is taking us all with it. We can’t look away because we are so inextricably attached to it and that’s what makes it all the more dreadful.




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