“We lost the championship at home against the lower teams – we have the best record against the top clubs – but we played at home in a very difficult climate. We have to realise that, away from home, we are championship winners. At home, against the smaller teams, we lost the league. This club does have special values though and one I’ve experienced over the years is to stick together and support the team. There’s no success without that.
I groaned when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lost control of the ball in front of the Arsenal defense and Mauro Zarate scored West Ham’s second goal. The season was officially 56 minutes old and I was left with my head in my hands.
I wasn’t a negative person. I wasn’t trying to foment revolution among the Arsenal fan base. I don’t hate Arsene Wenger, I love and respect everything he has given to this club. Days before the match I had even written a piece explaining the logic behind why Arsene Wenger might not buy a single outfield player that summer: that he had a stacked team and wanted to give players like Ox, Theo, Wilshere, Ramsey, and Chambers the room to grow into the team. But I was devastated by a loss in the opening match of the season. I was angry about the errors by Cech and Ox. I was hurt. Because I’m a human and this thing I care about wasn’t doing as well as I had hoped.
I felt a bit of disappointment at the 0-0 draw against Liverpool in the second home game. It was the second home game of the season where Arsenal had been held scoreless, but there were encouraging signs; Arsenal were creating great chances, we just had to be patient and the goals would come.
And in the loss to Chelsea which followed a few weeks later I was furious: not at Arsenal or Arsene Wenger, not at the players, but at the referee, Mike Dean, who had wrongly sent off Gabriel and ruined the game. The match was so poorly officiated that Mike Dean received the second highest rebuke he could possibly get and had the red card rescinded for Gabriel and a red card retroactively handed to Diego Costa.
And even the loss to West Brom felt unlucky. Arsenal jumped out to an early lead but were pegged back by a sloppy set play goal and lost the game in the end to an own goal — against a team that created 4 shots. Not exactly the kind of game you expect Arsenal to lose.
But in the very next match, Arsenal again had the lead, 1-0 against Norwich away, and once again let the lead slip — this time because Gabriel was caught in a poor position and allowed his man to turn him easily. After the goal, it looked like Arsenal gave up. The stats bear that out: they created as many shots as Arsenal did. And it was that match, the second consecutive lead dropped in the second consecutive away match, where I started to feel like this team maybe lacked a little bit of that famous mental strength that Wenger always brags about. That this team could lose any sized lead.
That was November 2015. That was two consecutive away matches.
But it was Boxing Day that was probably my most angry moment of the season as an Arsenal supporter. Arsenal went to Southampton and were spanked 4-0. Not just beaten by a lucky deflection, or by an own goal, or a shot that hits a balloon, Arsenal were cut apart by a team that simply wanted the win more. They were out-hustled, out shot, out-tackled, and out-played at every level in that match.
I watched Southampton beat Arsenal 4-0 and felt like a pool of jelly. I was resigned at that point that this was a lost season. That Wenger’s gamble on Flamini, Walcott, Campbell, Ramsey, and Ox — all of whom played in that match and all of whom were subsequently dropped in varying ways — was an utter failure.
I don’t read the blogs and when it comes to newspapers I only read the Guardian, so I don’t read the muck rakers at the Metro, the Telegraph, and the Mail. I don’t follow any of the other Arsenal blogs. I don’t even read Arseblog. I don’t listen to people on twitter. I don’t get into arguments on twitter. I don’t follow the Piers Morgans. I don’t even have other people around me to talk to about Arsenal. I don’t go to games. I don’t have pints with people before and after the games and complain about times past. I don’t even read the comments on my own Arsenal blog half the time. I live in an Arsenal bubble. And I was livid.
I was angry because I had put my faith in Wenger to make the right call when it came to these players and he didn’t. I had also put my faith in the players coming good and they didn’t. I had trumpeted Arsenal’s expected goals and the rate they were creating. I called Cech the best goal keeper in the League. I was a true believer in this project.
I was wrong.
After January, it only got worse. There was the 3-3 draw to Liverpool away in which Arsenal dropped the lead. There was the 0-0 draw to Stoke away, in which Arsenal only took 8 shots and both teams combined for 20 tackles. That was a match in which it looked like neither team could really be arsed to show up.
Are you paying attention here? It was Arsenal’s away form against little teams in the early part of the season which ruined Arsenal’s title chances. Arsenal have only won 8 away matches. That’s good enough for 3rd best away form behind Leicester and Tottenham. We are far from “Championship winners”, as Wenger claims: Arsenal’s 1.67ppg in away matches is 3rd best this season, 4th place form last season, and 7th place form the season prior. Championship? You mean the League Championship? Nope. 1.67ppg in away games is still only third place in the League Championship.
After January, things only got worse and Arsenal took 11 of 24 points from away matches. Those include the ignominious 3-3 draw against West Ham, in which Arsenal had a 3 goal lead and flushed it down the bog, and the 3-2 loss to Manchester United’s U21 team. And I’m not going to recap the horrible 0-0 draw to Sunderland a game which was so lazy and clearly the team didn’t care that I spent the majority of the match playing games on my phone.
The fan unrest this season isn’t because of egos. People aren’t groaning because some unnamed media personality is tweeting negativity about the team or the manager. The first time I heard the Kroenke out chant was an away game. I don’t even go to games but at every match, when the fans, home or away, groan? I groan along with them. When they yell “what the.. Theo???” I tell it too. I do all of this from my couch. If the home fans or the away fans are to blame, then I guess us couch fans are to blame too.
I’ve been to a dozen Arsenal matches. I’ve seen Arsenal pass the ball sideways for 90 minutes and fans fall asleep in front of me. I’ve been to away nights in Munich where we cheered for 90 minutes after an early goal gave us hope that we would get through to the next round. I’ve been to Anfield as their fans sang their little song and then sat quiet for 90 minutes and we sang for 90 minutes about Tottenham minding the gap. I went to Liberty Stadium where the Swansea faithful sang the whole match and played a kettle drum and our fans rained down abuse on Abou Diaby because he had the temerity to get injured. I’ve seen Adebayor play the laziest brand of football known to man on a freezing night in February, when a header from Senderos won the match. And I remember my first ever match, 3-0 over Charlton at Highbury: the crowd were largely polite, sang a few songs, and everyone went home with a slight buzz from the rarity of watching Hleb score.
Ninety percent of the time it’s not the fans who set the tone in the stadium, just like I don’t set the tone from my couch. Fans are there to see something exciting. They are there to see their team win. To see new heroes emerge. To see a special shot. To watch an amazing pass. To hear a crunching tackle and watch the opposition’s shots parried away. To see their team play their hearts out.
It’s not been the fans who lost Arsenal the title this season. It’s not been the home fans or the away fans singing about Kroenke. It’s not twitter. It’s not Piers Morgan. It’s not Thierry Henry on SkySports. It’s not the bloggers. It’s the team. This team wasn’t good enough. This team doesn’t excite. This team doesn’t show the fight we expect. This team isn’t prepared. This team loses games it should win because they don’t even show up sometimes. This team is weak and stale.
And that is not my fault.