Sunday, March 29, 2020
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Being an Arsenal fan has, for the most part, been far more rewarding than soul-destroying over the last fifteen years. I believe that no matter how you come about being a fan of a team, be it through geography or family peer pressure, once that decision has been made it sticks with you for life. This is fairly obvious and is perhaps the modern day form of tribal instincts, your allegiances are decided early on and through whatever trials and tribulations there are, you have a bipolar loyalty towards you team. In fact there is usually more loyalty in supporting a football team (or any sporting team) than people manage in the murky world of politics. It may of been OK for Churchill to swap back and forth from the Liberals to the Conservatives- twice(!), but you would not catch many Liverpool fans becoming an Evertonian during a mid-life crisis.

Aside from all this I must explain that supporting Arsenal right now is an unusual experience, I have been very fortuitous over the last ten and a bit years to have seen them win several honours, many supporters are never so lucky. Now times have changed and perhaps for the first time there are very minor voices of dissent amongst the Gunners fan base. I should state that it will take a lot more than our current travails for me to be one of those voices, but results such as today's loss to Stoke are difficult to swallow. 

The philosophy behind Arsene Wenger's approach to developing the Arsenal team is well known, avoid spending large amounts of money on transfers and put more faith into effective scouting of young players that can be well sculpted. It is a sensible and commendable way of trying to operate within the transfer market by aiming for more Cesc Fabregas than Francis Jeffers, and overall Arsenal have usually achieved the former than the latter. The problem is that up until recently the Arsenal team consisted of a good blend of unbridled youth and efficient experience, whereas now there are more chinks in the armour. Inevitably Arsenal suffer from the shadow of their past successes, I am regularly reminded of how the team has failed to win a trophy since 2005, when Patrick Viera ended his affair with Arsenal in the best possible way by scoring the winning penalty in the FA Cup final shoot-out against Manchester Utd.

I remember all to well how foolishly blase it all became, from 2001- 2005. Arsenal appeared in all but one of the FA Cup finals, not to mention winning two Premier League titles. The last one in 2004 heralded the famous 'Invincibles' team. The failure to add to the trophy cabinet since 2005 continues to place pressure on what is still a remarkably young squad of players, some parts of the media will continue to blame the team's inconsistent displays on this very factor. Famously Alan Hansen commented in the mid-nineties that Manchester Utd couldn't win trophies with kids, they promptly did and rubbished Hansen's assertion. Ultimately if a player is good enough they are old enough.

Where Arsenal appear to be failing in the current climate is with their lack of leadership on the field of play, it is becoming a worrying sight to regularly witness William Gallas close to tears with frustration. The Arsenal captain has had an uncanny knack for scoring important goals but his leadership is a feature for concern, if plan A is not working plan B usually results in becoming headstrong. Unfortunately Cesc Fabregas is the only realistic alternative full-time and it would be a gamble to place even more pressure on a player who is already of massive importance and constantly under the spotlight.

I do not wish to dwell on Wednesday evening's derby with Tottenham for understandable reasons, but the way in which a two goal lead was lost in the last five minutes showed a lack of discipline very rarely seen with Wenger in charge. The question is why the team did not attempt to close out the game when leading 3-1 with twenty minutes to play. In fact, I made an unfortunate premonition with the score at 4-3, questioning why the Arsenal players felt the need to push forward for a fifth goal rather than defending what they had.  


The frustration with the fans is that we are waiting with baited breath for the current Arsenal team to consistently win rather than to dazzle every other week, otherwise they will become another 'golden generation' in the ilk of past England failures. It is in such situations as that against Tottenham that the likes of Gallas and the other older players need to enlist calm rather than panicking, then Arsenal may start to convert their clear potential into a polished potency.


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