- Sports and Recreation
The terms and conditions for being an Arsenal fan
As you are probably well aware, Arsenal produced one of their best performances in years to defeat Manchester City at the Etihad on Sunday. They were untypically efficient, well-drilled and combative - the train back to London would have been overwhelmed with superlatives about how well the Arsenal played. They were so good in fact, that radio phone-ins and internet forums on Sunday evening, were inundated with 'Gooners' claiming that this win was the turning point; whether that is the turning point to a relatively mediocre season, or the gradual demise over the last 10 years, I'm not really sure. In fairness, us Arsenal fans have had a lot of misery to endure in the recent past, so can you criticise us for getting a bit carried away?
Actually, yes, yes you can.
It would be understandable if this was a one-off occasion, a rare moment of glory amongst a storm of Senderos mistakes and Bendtner misses. But it isn't. For every collapse at home to Anderlecht, is a performance like the one on Sunday, a performance which gives even the most pessimistic fan the most damaging feeling of all - false hope. A feeling which, as an Arsenal fan, unearths itself with alarming regularity.
In February of the 2010/11 season, Arsenal had just produced a sublime display to defeat Barcelona 2-1 in the last 16 of the Champions League. Domestically they were going well also, sitting just one point behind Manchester United at the top of the table. They were brimming with confidence, the attacking threat of Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie provoked an excitement rarely witnessed at the Emirates before. It seemed it would take a drastic case of misfortune to disrupt Arsenal's momentum, but as we Gooners know, a spectacular downfall never seems too far away.
Two weeks after that famous victory over the Catalans, Arsenal faced a Birmingham side languishing down at the bottom of the table, in the Carling Cup final. The North London side were without their talismanic captain, Cesc Fabregas, but even the most ardent Blues fan would have admitted Arsenal were heavy favourites. This may have been the case, but against all the odds Arsenal managed to throw the chance of a trophy away, a last-minute defensive blunder gifting Birmingham the win. Cue the inevitable collapse of Arsenal's season.
10 days after that brutally humiliating defeat, Arsenal crashed out of the Champions League in controversial fashion; Robin Van Persie the victim of a dubious red card decision. This disheartening defeat, coupled with the loss of the Carling Cup final, deflated the Gunners mentally and physically - several of their key players suffered season-ending injuries soon after. The loss of confidence was so shamelessly obvious, Arsenal would go on to win just 1 of their next 10 League games.
The sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively in the following summer, meant that if any positivity remained after the dismal end to the previous campaign, it was soon quashed. If only the fans knew then how much worse it would get. Arsenal's start of the 2011/12 season consisted of a demoralising 4-3 defeat to Blackburn before the brutal 8-2 at Old Trafford. Confidence was at an all time low.
Come the end of October, Arsenal travelled to Stamford Bridge with little optimism; their fans expecting the annual rolling over to a powerful Chelsea team. For once though, it didn't happen. Robin Van Persie inspired the Gunners to a 5-3 victory, but more importantly, the Dutchman inspired Arsenal fans to believe again. The Emirates was beginning to pick up some energy, with Arsenal fans arriving at games in buoyant mood. The wave of optimism carried Arsene Wenger's men to a run of 6 wins in 8 Premier League games, prompting the supporters to believe the tide had turned - it hadn't. Arsenal went on to lose their next 3 Premier League matches and the optimism quickly evaporated into familiar disappointment.
The start of last season alone, epitomised the turbulence you experience when following Arsenal. They opened their Premier League account in their textbook lackadaisical manner, a disjointed performance culminating in a bewildering 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa; many fans angrily called for a change at the helm. A week or so later, Wenger eventually overlooked his obsession for finding a bargain, and spent £42 million for the services of world-class playmaker Mesut Ozil. The announcement of this unexpectedly marquis signing, created an oasis of hope over the Emirates, glossing over the lack of defensive cover or back up striker.
For the first half of the season it seemed that Ozil represented a new dawn at Arsenal, one where they actually spent enough money to compete with the financial powerhouses. The Gunners sat top of the league at Christmas, only losing once since the opening day of the season; Ozil's reputation in itself, was integral in the apparent renaissance in the red half of North London. Comprehensive home victories over Liverpool and Spurs meant that the renewed belief was alive a little longer than in previous years - which made the customary capitulation harder to stomach.
In away games at Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton - Arsenal conceded fourteen goals - not exactly championship winning defensive stability. The sight of Arsenal making their habitual slide down the table shouldn't have come as much of a shock for the team's supporters, but as much as I hate to admit it, it still did.
The never-ending pattern
So bringing us back to the present day, to the aftermath of Sunday and the optimism it induced. A few days have passed and as much as many fans will try to contain it, the false hope is slowly infiltrating the thoughts of every Gunner. It's very hard to ignore. Despite history screaming that it will all end in failure, leaving us even more emotionally drained than before - it just seems like Arsene's very close to getting it right. An acquisition of a commanding central defender in the transfer window, added to an injury free spell, looks on paper, to be a recipe for success. But, for one reason or another, it never quite works out this way.
There were so many positives to take from Sunday's performance, it's tough to remember what the problems were before. The thing is, other than the lack of defensive reinforcements, there weren't any stand-out barriers on the pitch. The problem is a simple, yet very large one - Arsenal have grown into a majestic yet fragile football team, where aesthetically pleasing failure has become so commonplace, it's become almost impossible to escape it. In other words, it's become acceptable to look good, yet lose. Whether this mentality is sub-consciously implemented by Wenger is another argument altogether, however, one thing that remains certain; Arsenal somehow need to scrap this mindset or will always end up falling short. Has the triumph over Manchester City finally rid them of their hamartia? Probably not - but then again, we can always hope.