Wow, I forgot all about the wonderful world of WordPress and how long it has been since we last posted some content here. I’ve felt inspired by events during the latest campaign and eventually found my way back here to try getting back on the blogging horse, if there is such a thing. We will run a multi-part overview of the season that was and see where the road takes us from there during the course of the preseason.
In all my time being an Arsenal fan, now pushing on towards 20 years, I can’t remember a season where I have witnessed such animosity and negative emotion around the club. Those of you who listened to the Pod over the course of the season may recall our anxiety over delays during yet another transfer window where distinct holes in the squad had been identified, but failed to be filled in time for the opening games of the season. An opening round home defeat to Liverpool highlighted the fact that we had come into another season under-prepared. Rolling into the game with a defensive partnership of Callum Chambers alongside Rob Holding on debut highlighted this fact. Still, following that game we managed to bring in Mustafi and began to build some good momentum, going the next 19 games unbeaten. A 3-0 stuffing of Chelsea had us riding high in the league and gave us plenty of banter to carry on with. For a time.
Having moved to London (N15) from Melbourne during the 15/16 season, this was a good chance for me to soak up as much of the local footy culture as I could. My flat was just up the road from Finsbury Park, so finding a local watering hole screening the Arsenal on match day was like finding a hooker in a brothel. Being able to be on “ground zero” during the season brought me into the heart of the growing feeling of anxiety and frustration aimed at the club. Yes, we were on a good run of games after the Liverpool defeat but you felt as though scraping various late equalisers/winners were hiding some of the deeper issues we had failed to address over preceding seasons. Frustrations that had previously surfaced had begun bubbling away again, like a quietened volcano slowly building pressure and fiery heat that, this time around, only needed a small shift in the landscape to erupt. A string of late goals (Soton, Burnley, ManUtd) seemed to appease the ever unrestful fan base as we maintained the run and spared the club its blushes. I mean, playing average football and scraping the W/D is a far easier sell than playing average football and dropping another 3 points. From our ever faithful Arsene Wenger It was all about the fabled “mental strength” of this group and how we were playing efficient football that saw us able to take chances that saved our graces on more than one squeaky bum occasion.
But then we dropped 2 crucial games on the bounce. At Everton and City we took the lead before being outworked and outfought on the way to defeats that were a culmination of some poor performances in the lead up.
And then we came into 2017. Going 3-0 down to Bournemouth before somehow fighting our way to a draw, going behind and then scraping a 90th minute winner against Preston NE in the FA Cup and then winning the lottery against Burnley with a last gasp penalty. So, while we had amassed a handy collection of late goals for the highlights reel, no one in the stands nor man in the bar was buying into the positive spin that was being served up anymore. How were we letting ourselves get into these kinds of positions? How long can we keep getting away with sub-standard performances before we eventually run short of luck? The themes of conversations I had with many a fan revolved around these basic insights. It wasn’t long before those fears were brought into the spotlight on the field.
Losses to Watford, Chelsea and then the 2 legged monstering at the hands Munich, which sandwiched another poor performance at Liverpool, had an already disillusioned group of fans firing on all cylinders and we spiralled out of control.
The club, players and its administrators were now, whether they acknowledged it or not, fighting to maintain some semblance of control. As fans, we were treated to the same company line. Delivered by a visibly tiring Wenger and an ever more despondent parade of players forced to come out and dribble toothless, robotic statements that dodged every problem, serving to fuel the ire of fans everywhere. Take yourself back to the final blow in a terrible run, the 3-0 defeat at Palace, a Theo Walcott post match interview that angered me no end….
When you hear from a guy like Theo; nice, neat and well spoken lad (who donned the armband) that he is, acknowledge the fact that the team sensed the opposition “wanted it more” or were “up for it” from the start of the game, you couldn’t help but throw your hands in the air.
What the fuck was going on with our club?
The protests had been gathering steam and press coverage, especially in the aftermath of the dumping out of Europe. It was becoming a near daily trudge through social media feeds, news outlets and workplace banter. The anger was almost palatable. People had had enough and the movement to create change was becoming stronger everyday. Even a hopeless optimist like me found myself swinging to the push for change, how could I not? Each season in recent times had seen an uncanny ability to play out in disturbingly similar fashion. The ponderous state of our transfer dealings, the misstep during the opening games, our inevitable long-term injury to key players, coupled with the entirely predictable collapse in form which saw our hopes of contention for the title dashed before then reviving ourselves for a chase to make the top 4 with the feeling that this should be counted as another successful campaign. It was all a bit old and this time around, people were full to the back teeth with the whole shebang.
If we the fans could identify these issues, then why had we seen such resistance from the club to want to change?
Stay tuned for Part II!
Ps: Dont forget to listen/subscirbe to the pod! On iTunes & SoundCloud.