Arsenal fans are a patient bunch. After waiting over a decade for a marquee, world-class signing, we then have to wait another two weeks just to watch him play. International breaks, or interluls, are becoming more and more frequent in the domestic calander, and if FIFA get their way, a whole season may be disrupted for the international game should they move the Qatar World Cup to the winter.
I’ve never had to have a club vs country debate. It’s always been Arsenal first, everything else second. Of course I like England, but I love Arsenal. When England lose it’s annoying, when Arsenal lose it’s devastating. If England win it’s satisfying, when Arsenal win it makes my weekend.
The interluls during the season have always annoyed me. They break up any kind of flow a team has, and you have to watch as your prized players travel half way round the world to play for a team you don’t support, then they come back either knackered or injured.
I still maintain international fixtures should happen as a block, during the summer, or during one allocated time. Arsenal had just won the North London Derby, then signed Mesut Ozil, and then all of a sudden, whatever flow we have becomes disrupted. Football is all about momentum, and the international calendar kills any kind of forward progression stone dead.
With all that being said, I’ve recently taken a new liking to international football. In the summer of 2012, Manchester City, a team that cost £500 million pounds, won the Premier League. A week later, Chelsea, a team that cost another £500 million pounds, won the Champions League. The football I grew up with was already long gone, but that was the dagger through the heart that confirmed there was no turning back. Football is changed forever, and, in this authors opinion, it’s all the worse for it. Money was always an inevitability in football, but to see those two teams just outright buy trophies confirmed to me that domestic football had become a dirty game. At least before there was some semblance that it was a fair game, that any team, on their day could beat anyone.
So, I took the decision to start following the only team in the world who can possibly put you through the same emotional rollercoaster as Arsenal: The England National Football team.
It’s illogical, and I support them in a different way to the way I support Arsenal. If a player has an Arsenal shirt on, I’ll support them unequivocally, and I’ll make valid, reasonable arguments that they are not just better players, but better people than anyone that plays for another team.
With England that’s not the case. I can’t spent 11 months of the year despising Wayne Rooney and John Terry and then all of a sudden decide to support them. I support the shirt, not the players. There are two sides to the coin; it makes me sick to cheer any goal that Rooney or Lampard, or dare I say it, Ashley score. On the other side, it’s doubly fun to lay into Kyle Walker when he inevitably messes up for the hundredth time in a match.
But after a year of supporting England, going home and away like the hardcore, I’ve come up with some comparisons between England and Arsenal.
The first thing to note, and it pains me to say this, is that there is a much better atmosphere at England home games than Arsenal home games. I’m not talking simply about the noise made in the stadium(although that is also louder at England) but it’s striking just how united the England fans are compared to Arsenal. The people I sit with at Arsenal are a fairly affluent bunch. The prices of season tickets means it’s a pre-requisite to have some sort of disposable income to watch Arsenal regularly. Yet even among the prawn sandwich brigade (who are still hardcore fans that turn up week in, week out) there are factions and arguments every game. There’s AKB’s, WOB’s and I’ve seen things get physical on various occasions lately; whatever happened to just supporting the team for 90 minutes.
One of the great things about playing in a big stadium is that you can generate an incredible noise; an intimidating proposition for opposing teams, and a rousing backing for the home team. Yet at The Arsenal we’re so busy fighting among ourselves that we’re not utilising what could be a fantastic opportunity to create the fabled ‘12th man’
In defence of us Gooners, one of the reasons England fans are so united, so together, is that there are no false pretences; everyone knows the team are shit. We may delude ourselves during tournament time that we stand an outside chance of winning it, but during the qualifiers and home games, there is a collective understanding that England are destined to fail, it’s become a part of the teams identity, and just like night follows day, there’s an inevitability that England are just not very good; if things can go wrong, they will.
Contrast that to Arsenal fans, and I feel there’s a more positive mindset at work. Whilst I don’t think we can say we feel entitled to success, we do certainly expect our great club to be in the mix, to play its part at the top table. We’re optimistic, and so we should be. Arsenal is a fantastic club, with amazing history and tradition, playing in a world class stadium. Regardless of who the opposition is, a club of Arsenal’s stature should expect to win every home game. Things may have gone sour recently, but there isn’t an away team in the world that could arrive at Arsenal and think they’re guaranteed to win. Long may this continue. We’re hopeful, and on occasion our hope and faith may be misguided, but Arsenal Stadium should be our fortress, and there’s every indication that it will become so.
Another thing I noted, is that if you think Arsenal need Jack Wilshere fit, our need is nothing compared to England. Arsenal can call upon Cazorla, Rosicky, and now Ozil to break open defences from midfield. England have Wilshere. That. Is. It.
However good Lampard and Gerrard may be (or may have been) they don’t possess the unique skillset that Wilshere does. They can play long balls and shoot from range, but they can’t take on a man and dribble round him, or maraud through the middle with a bursting run like a fit Jack Wilshere can.
It made me laugh that the British media were so quick to criticise Wilshere after the match against Ukraine; why alienate the man who holds the hopes of an entire nation on his shoulders. There is no-one else like Wilshere, end of story. If he’s injured, England have even less hope of success than they already do. I’m not saying that as a rose-tinted Arsenal fan, I’d rather Jack was rested every international break so he can fully recover and prosper for Arsenal. England have no other options, they need Jack Wilshere.
Following England has also made me appreciate Arsenal’s strength in depth. Arteta, Chamberlain, Podolski, Rosicky and Vermaelen, are all players who would struggle to get into a fully fit first 11 at Arsenal. (Assuming Ramsey keeps his place in midfield when Arteta returns).
England this week had a substitutes bench consisting of Ross Barkley, Andros Townsend and Raheem Sterling. Are those players international quality? Would you be willing to throw them onto the field in a World Cup quarter final? Of course not.
Lastly, for all the faults of the atmosphere inside the stadium, match-going Arsenal fans are blessed with the transport links. There are 5 tube stations within walking distance of Arsenal, there are countless buses, and Central London is very close.
Spare a thought for England fans. From the time the final whistle blows, it’s not unrealistic for it to take an hour before you board a tube. The transport links to that area are appalling. If you choose to drive the roads are log jammed, buses back into Central London are packed and takes an age to get back into the city centre.
I’ve long criticised people that leave football early, especially at Arsenal; why pay extortionate ticket prices to miss the most important part of the match. Yet at Wembley, it’s almost expected. If you want to get home at a decent hour you simply must leave early. It’s a shame and it’s unbelievable nothing has been done to try and alleviate the burden on the one tube station servicing the region.
Ultimately, supporting England makes you realise just how good we have it as Arsenal fans. If we could all start singing from the same hymn sheet then things could be even better. Yet for all its woes, I would urge anyone disillusioned with their national team to take a greater interest in it. You can take it less seriously, gain enjoyment from it, and if for no other reason, it gives you something to do during the never-ending interluls.
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