I had a good friend ask me “Why would I support Arsenal?” yesterday and for a moment I was stumped.
I mean, I could say that we are a great club, that we have a long history of winning trophies, and that we have an amazing new stadium in one of the nicest cities in the world. I could point to Mesut Özil who broke the Premier League chances created record yesterday and Alexis Sanchez who is one of the most exciting players in the League. And I could point to young guys like Iwobi and Bellerin coming through the Arsenal ranks.
I could also say that Arsenal revolutionized football, twice.
The first revolution was with Herbert Chapman and his WM formation. Clubs played the WM for 50 years after Chapman invented it. That’s something special right there.
Wenger was also the first foreign manager to win the League. Bob Kyle is often cited but he was an Irishman when Ireland was part of the UK. Wenger was the first truly foreign manager to win the League. And he did so with a team that was largely foreign as well.
I would go one step further and say that those title races between Arsenal and Man U from 1997-2005 popularized the English Premier League. Arsenal challenged the monopoly of Man U and without Wenger’s Arsenal playing beautiful, incisive, flowing football, I doubt the Premier League would be as popular as it is today.
Those are good reasons to become a new Arsenal supporter but it’s all in the past. We are, like Liverpool and Man U, a club living in the past and I’m afraid we are going to keep living in the past.
My friend decided to jump on the Leicester bandwagon and I don’t blame him at all. I wrote about this before, I like bandwagon fans. Nothing wrong with bandwagon fans at all: they fill the coffers of the club, spread the club’s popularity, and some of them even stick around for decades after despite the lack of trophies. I was a bandwagon fan, I fell in love with Arsenal when they won the League at Old Trafford.
And now it looks like Leicester are going to win the League at Old Trafford. It would be a fitting victory for the way they, like Arsenal 16 years ago, have made football exciting again for the people who support clubs outside of the traditional quatrogopoly. They are an exciting team and what they are doing this season is nothing short of a miracle. When they beat Swansea 4-0 and their supporters were singing and partying it reminded me how exciting a real title race is. Something I haven’t felt for 12 years.
Meanwhile back in Arsenal land, Arsenal looked like a team that has given up on the season. They aren’t pressuring the ball out of possession and they aren’t moving off the ball in possession. You don’t have to take it just from me, Adrian Clarke opened with a similar bit in his breakdown. You know it’s bad if the official dot com site is calling out players for playing static on offense and lazy on defense.
A few players put in a running shift. Alexis moved, but then got grief for turning the ball over too much. Elneny was also constantly in motion, I don’t think Elneny could stand still in a queue, he’d probably have to run circles around it.
But for much of the game, Arsenal were playing at a standstill. Maybe it was because of the fact that this was Arsenal’s third game in six days. That was Wenger’s excuse and that’s an excuse for Özil and Iwobi, I suppose, but not for Giroud who was easily the biggest culprit. And if he was tired, why not start Welbeck?
And why isn’t Leicester tired? Or Tottenham? Why is Arsenal the only team suffering from this late-season run? We are built to be a Champions League team, right? Shouldn’t we have the numbers and types of players needed to mount a title challenge and a Champions League challenge?
I know that we don’t. We have several players on the books who can’t play football anymore. And we have players who seem to have given up on playing football at Arsenal.
Late in the match Theo Walcott pulled out of a soft challenge for a 50-50 ball and it may have been the right decision from his point of view but it symbolizes this season for me. This was a chance to win the ball in the Sunderland final 1/3 with no one left to beat and the goal gaping. But Walcott danced his way out of the challenge.
Like Walcott, Wenger pulled out of the challenge of signing some new players until we literally had no players left to play in central midfield. And there isn’t even any need to talk about forward players. I saw Andrew’s column on Arsenal needing an upgrade on Giroud and Walcott and thought “yeah! We have needed an upgrade there for three years.” It’s hard to find quality forwards, it’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that has to be met and can’t simply be danced out of by saying it’s difficult.
And beyond Walcott and Wenger, Arsenal seem to have a number of players who simply pull out of challenges. They give up on loose balls too easily, they don’t get stuck into challenges, if they cough the ball up they fall to the ground, throw their hands in the aid and demand that the referee make a call, and it seems like under any kind of heat they just melt.
The season isn’t over. We can’t be pulling out of tackles. Arsenal have to play Norwich on Saturday and the Canaries are in a relegation fight – they won’t be pulling out of tackles. Man U is in 5th place and they are just 5 points away from Arsenal with a game in hand. They will be giving everything on Sunday to avoid letting Leicester be crowned champions at Old Trafford.
So, why would someone become a new Arsenal fan right now? Yeah, we have the great history and the records but this team, right now? Not unless you’re a masochist and enjoy watching a team limp over the 4th place line.