As covered in a previous post for You Are My Arsenal (http://youaremyarsenal.com/behind-enemy-lines-undercover-anfield/), I had the ‘pleasure’ of being at Anfield last Saturday evening to watch Arsenal’s latest apologetic capitulation against a top six side. Three days later, as I emerged from Arsenal tube station heading to the second leg Champions League game against Bayern Munich, I was approximately 20-30 metres behind the protest march that was calling for Arsène Wenger not to be offered a new contract and for the manager to leave the club. Fat Harry (legendary purveyor of foot-long frankfurters from his stall on Gillespie Road) described the marchers’ behaviour as ‘disgusting’ and I can fully understand that point of view after all the Frenchman has done for the club; but for me the march itself and feeling of compulsion to arrange or even participate in an event of that nature smacks of petulance driven by the sense of entitlement of the modern football fan. That is not to say that protests didn’t happen in years gone by, in fact I vividly remember boisterous chanting and calls for Don Howe’s head outside the old dressing rooms at Highbury after an insipid 2-2 draw against West Brom back in April 1986; but it is such a reflection of modern society that these now have to be organised and orchestrated in advance and are as much about being seen to be protesting as actually containing any heartfelt meaning.
For Arsenal fans it is pertinent to consider what it is that they are in fact protesting about; that the best they can hope for the remainder of this season is another run at Champions League qualification? Something that only nine English clubs have achieved since the change to the format of the competition twenty years ago? I am not for one second suggesting that we as Arsenal fans should not be frustrated, be angry or even feel let down by the lack of tangible progress being made by the club; simply suggesting that we stop for a moment and think about how it reflects on us as fans. It is perfectly acceptable to believe that change is required at board level and in the manager in order for us to ever move up to the next level; but is accusing the manager of ‘killing our club’ really the right way to achieve this?
In the event, only a maximum of 350-400 or so fans were involved in the march; a far more effective message to the board was made through the vast number of empty seats for a supposed glamour tie against a club we are reputedly trying to compete against, as well as the constant stream of early leavers once the outcome of the tie was beyond any conceivable doubt. It is abundantly clear that the core motivation of the ownership of the club and subsequently the board is on increasing the value of the asset, based on the illusion of us being able to compete at the very top of the European game; increasingly it is becoming a harder sell to convince the ‘customer’(sic) base that we are. The performance on the field, while generally better than in recent weeks up until the Bayern penalty and the seemingly harsh red card for Koscielny, will have done little to suggest that we are getting any closer to the elite level to which we supposedly aspire.
Thankfully, to deflect attention from Arsenal’s tribulations, PSG actually managed to out-Arsenal the Gunners by throwing away a 4 goal lead and unceremoniously exiting the competition which they covet so dearly. I wrote on these very pages a few weeks ago that, ‘Barca will look to respond in the second leg back at their cherished Camp Nou, but a miracle such as the one required to turn this tie around is surely beyond even them’, which goes to a show how little I know about these things! All through the build-up to the game the noise emanating from within the Barcelona camp was one of belief with now-departing manager Luis Enrique stating that he was ‘convinced’ that his side would get back into the tie and defensive lynchpin Gerard Pique warning fans that they would be ‘p***ed off if they missed the comeback’. It is true to say that Barca benefited from some generous refereeing and PSG buckled in the face of the Blaugrana’s onslaught; but that should take nothing away from what was a truly miraculous and drama-filled performance. It was a reminder of the magic of the game and why we all still love it so much.
Of course having bigged them up in last week’s post; it was almost inevitable that Feyenoord would wobble in their pursuit of their first Eredivisie title since the turn of the century. The pressure was always going to tell and it was likely that the slip up would come in a game they were expected to win; so when Mathias Pogba (yes the other one’s brother!) put local rivals from the west of the city, Sparta, ahead in the opening minute, there was a feeling of inevitability as the league leaders huffed and puffed but ultimately couldn’t find a breakthrough. Thankfully the dropped points were to prove less than fatal as sole pursuers Ajax were held to a draw at FC Groningen a couple of hours later. With the two historically bitter rivals both having home matches against the fifth and sixth placed teams, Feyenoord play AZ Alkmaar while Ajax play FC Twente, this Sunday, it is very much becoming, as a famous Scottish manager once called it, ‘squeaky bum time’ or whatever the Dutch equivalent is.
This weekend’s fixtures in the Premier League are somewhat limited with only Liverpool out of the top six being involved in league action with the visit of Burnley on Sunday afternoon. The other five teams feature in FA Cup quarter final match-ups, personally I will be hoping there is no magic of the FA Cup to be found in London N5 and that Arsenal dispose of giant-killers Lincoln City effectively; if they were to somehow suffer an upset to a non-league side we may be seeing more than a protest march at the next home game!