The misguided sense of entitlement and over-hyped expectation of the modern football fan, the sense that because we pay a fortune to watch the games we are somehow owed something in return; is a sentiment for which I have little sympathy (https://football-nerd.org/2017/09/13/football-nerd-weekly-ramblings-dont-expect-loyalty-in-modern-football-and-you-wont-be-disappointed/).
However, the very least that we can expect from our team is commitment, a professional attitude and a clear desire to perform at a level that even though it will never justify the players’ exorbitant remuneration, at least demonstrates an understanding of the fans and their passion for the club. All of which brings me to the current state of Arsenal, and the frankly unacceptable ‘performances’ they have put in over the last week.
It started on a freezing Thursday evening at the Emirates, where 3-0 up from the first leg, Arsenal hosted an Ostersunds side that weren’t even in existence when Arsène Wenger took over management of the club. In his programme notes, the Arsenal manager suggested: ‘A big part of reaching the last 16 is done but to be professional is to finish the job…overall I believe we have only done half of a job and a professional football player does the whole job. The professional club and the professional team does the job properly.’ If only he had told the players this! Or if indeed he did, if only they hadn’t stopped listening to him months ago.
What his charges served up in response was the very antithesis of a professional attitude. Sloppy from the start, the Gunners’ display pointed to just about everything that is wrong with the current incarnation of Arsenal; a team that simply couldn’t be bothered putting in the requisite effort. Taking nothing away from Ostersunds, who actually impressed with their application, belief and heart for a tie that ultimately proved just beyond them. Only just failing to pull off the seemingly impossible, in the end the only thing that saved their supposedly more illustrious opposition was the three goals scored and missed penalty in the first leg.
In the past Arsenal have usually been able to maintain some semblance of an illusion of competition by regrouping and offering a level of renewed fight in the following game; this time it was a Cup Final against high-flying Manchester City. Surely this provided the perfect opportunity to respond, to demonstrate to the fans that even if they weren’t to win the League Cup, they at least were not to be found wanting in terms of the manager’s much-vaunted attributes of spirit and commitment. Oh how wrong were we to be.
Wembley victories over the last four seasons have proven to be the manager’s saving grace; the team has somehow managed to raise themselves for these one-off big matches. On Sunday they hid, cowed by far superior opponents and simply ambled through a game that City didn’t have to play particularly well in to give their manager his first trophy in English football.
There was a point in the second half on Sunday, after City had gone 2-0 up when Sky Sports commentator Gary Neville accused Arsenal of not wanting it, stating: ‘Look at Ramsey walking, he’s walking, Xhaka’s walking, Özil walking, they’re walking; don’t walk at Wembley, don’t walk on a football pitch.’ Minutes later when the third goal went in, Neville called Arsenal ‘an absolute disgrace’ and ‘spineless’; as the camera panned to a young Arsenal fan in tears, he said, ‘Look what you have caused.’ Neville’s comments may have been somewhat over the top but it is difficult to do anything but agree with the sentiment behind them. The pill made all the more difficult to swallow coming from a former Arsenal rival. As a significant proportion of the Arsenal support made for the exits and to beat the rush for the tubes, all those of us remaing, stubbornly refusing to leave before the final whistle as a point of principle, could do was to suck it up wistfully, remembering the days when it was us celebrating as the City hordes were.
By a strange quirk of footballing fate the fixture list conspired to have us hosting City again just four days after the Wembley debacle. With the Beast from the East Siberian freeze hitting the capital even harder than in the preceding days, only the faithful or deluded opted to attend this one, yours truly of course being one of them.
Once again if we were expecting anything at all from our manager and team, we were to be let down. To stand any chance of salvaging even a modicum of pride we needed to get stuck in from the start, instead we stood off handed them the initiative and control of the game, and my word did they take it. If Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t even need to get into top gear to swat us aside on Sunday, last night they tore us to shreds with three excellent team goals in the first half that merely defined the gulf in class between the two sides. From there City merely toyed with us seemingly content that they had us where they wanted us and another three points in the bag towards their inevitable title parade. A late penalty miss from record signing Aubameyang the only threat to their goal, even then you just knew that had we scored City would merely have stepped up again and finished us off.
While the horrendous weather can be used as somewhat of a mitigating factor, the vast swathes of empty seats, this time for a Premier League game, suggest the scales have well and truly fallen from the eyes of the majority who follow the club. The anger and frustration of previous seasons are now replaced with apathy and resignation. Arsenal are the very embodiment of a club that is marking time while the current incumbent remains in the dugout. In many ways the humane thing to do would be for the board to finally show strength and announce that this season will be his last, that way we could all get on with honouring his legacy and hoping for a brighter future.
Arsène thank you for the unforgettable memories but it really is time to say goodbye.