It’s difficult to know where to begin with Saturday’s horror show. What can be said that hasn’t already been written all over the net by bloggers and writers far more talented than yours truly? Not a lot. But yesterday I was provided with something of an epiphany; for I realised that however bad this gets (and I fear as much as anyone that we could soon sink to unprecedented depths), unlike, I’d imagine, a growing number of fans, as long as I am healthy and financially-able, you just won’t be able to keep me away.
The past couple of months, and particularly the last week or so, has been pretty traumatic for me on a personal level, for reasons of which I won’t bore you with. But football has this surreal ability to take away even the most gut-wrenching of pains. Some people find this kind of solace through music and the arts, excessive drinking or drug use. As we all know, there are plenty of dangerous side-effects to religiously supporting a football team; particularly one like Arsenal who regularly put you through the ringer.
But it does the job it’s supposed to do – it’s an escape from a world that is undoubtedly as dark and cruel as it is wonderful. I’ve come to despise the off-season and the lack of football, and like the scruffiest of junkies, I’ve been desperately itching for my Arsenal fix. The transfer window usually provides some kind of shot in the arm as we, in quite futile fashion, go all kids-on-Christmas-Day with regards to any type of gossip about top players wanting to join the club. But nothing quite beats actual, regular football.
Having stolen my old man’s season ticket, I made my way to the stadium, despite our controversial lack of transfer activity, with great optimism. Perhaps because of our excellent pre-season victory over Premier League rivals, Manchester City last Saturday, but mainly, it was just that regular football was back and it was the start of a new season, in which nobody knows what twists and turns are to come. It was hard not to smile as I witnessed the sea of red shirts go flowing towards our collective mecca that has been so desperately missed. It’s a new season but it’s the same old traditions that make the experience so unerringly magical; the smell of greasy, overpriced burger vans, the two-bags-of-sweets-for-one-pound-guy still telling you to pick from “anywhere you like,” taking my seat beside the same old miserable bar stewards, and the general sense of anticipation that sends a shiver down your spine. Clichéd as it may be, the Emirates really has become something of a second home for me.
As for the game itself, I would summarise but, as mentioned at the top, you’re better off going elsewhere. Arseblog’s write-up, not for the first time, hits the nail on the head. But the salient facts are that, as simply terrible as the referee’s performance was, that should not be an excuse. If we bought the players we needed (and Saturday was as clear a demonstration as any that we’re desperately short), the task does not become nearly as laboured, taxing and, ultimately, humiliating.
We’ve got absolutely nobody to step into the shoes of Mikel Arteta who is, without doubt, our most valuable player at this point in time. As much as I love the Spaniard, it’s not even as if he’s world class and irreplaceable on the market in the way a certain Dutchman might be. The last piece I wrote mentioned Luiz Gustavo and that he would be just about the perfect signing for us. How different would the game have been had we had a player of his quality and, more importantly, discipline, sitting in front of the back four when the opposition looked to counter? For each of the goals, our midfield just seemed to part like the Red Sea. Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are frighteningly talented players but are simply not ready, or well-equipped enough, to play together in the ‘double pivot.’ I’m not claiming to be a Premier League-quality manager, but I could have told you that months ago, and I’m sure plenty of other Arsenal fans will feel the same. Letting the closest thing we have to Arteta in Francis Coquelin go, and failing to bring in a replacement, is surely mismanagement at its very worst.
We’re also potentially down to having two available defenders for the Fulham game next week. Two. Half as many as we start games with. I was sweating enough before the game with just one recognised defender on the bench, and we’re in a hell of a worse position now. Not bringing in the players we needed is absolutely inexcusable. It’s all very well saying there’s two and a half weeks of the transfer window remaining but, as we all feared, we’re playing catch-up already. It’s taken us 90 minutes to already be three whole points behind the leaders.
With the greatest of respect to a much-improved side, if we went into the game even remotely prepared (for example, not having to rely on Santi Cazorla, who, quite evidently in his performance, stepped off a plane from South America barely 24 hours before kick-off), we’d have more than enough to beat Aston Villa, even with a painfully incompetent referee giving, quite literally, eight or nine out of every ten decisions in their favour.
I’m sure, in fact I know, judging by some reactions, that I wasn’t alone in being really quite angry at what was a really sorry state of affairs. But that’s what this beautiful game is all about. You get incessantly caught up in its own futile little world. All I could think about whilst downing post-match pints or making the journey home was the result, and not my ‘off-the-pitch’ issues.
Looking back, even at full-time as I found myself joining in the “spend some effin’ money” chant for the first time, I realised I still wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. You share these bad times with thousands of others when at times life makes you feel so isolated and alone. If we’d have won the game 2-0 with no controversial talking points, I’d have slipped back into thinking about other things.
There are dozens of cringey memes doing the rounds about singing louder and supporting the team more as we get progressively worse. That’s how I’m beginning to feel. Arsenal is my distraction from the world, and like in any relationship, whilst they have me tearing my hair out at times, my feelings towards the club will never truly waver. If anything, I woke up today loving them even more.
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