I’d like to start this blog with a question – When was the last time you were truly excited about an Arsenal match?
If you’re anything like me, you look forward to every game with a degree of excitement. I spend large portions of the working week awaiting Arsenal games, thinking about formations, tactics, team selections etc.
But I’ve spent the last couple of weeks wondering when I was last overwhelmingly looking forward to an Arsenal match. I’m talking about the butterflies in your stomach experience, the sleepless nights, the feeling of watching a game with everything riding on it. That feeling of sheer excitement, mixed with tense nerves and fervent anticipation.
I’m lucky enough to attend every home game and a fair portion of away games, and before a big game there’s a kind of buzz, an untold atmosphere as fans of both teams make their way to the stadium. It’s like a there’s a collective sense of mystery and enchantment, like those going to the game are already aware they are going to witness something special.
In the last few weeks Arsenal have played both Tottenham and Bayern Munich. Two games that even the most passive of football fans can become animated about. Yet, before both games there was an impending sense of doom.
As Gooners, we have collectively been starved of pure adrenaline based football matches lately. Our lack of competitiveness in high profile matches has created a kind of desperation, which manifested itself in the hours before the Bayern game, where Gooners throughout the world became hypnotised with positivity.
Around the ground, online, and even in several betting shops, Arsenal, for no good reason, suddenly became the favourites. Of course the inevitable happened, and we collectively returned to a previous state.
There was no such optimism before the Spurs game this weekend. It seemed, fans were either dreading the prospect of facing Spurs at the Lane, or felt the complete opposite, and felt that history and tradition would prevail, and we’d dispose of the Spuds with ease.
Of course I’m generalising to a degree, and I don’t want to polarise the opinions of thousands of fans, but that was the general feeling I felt.
Maybe I’m missing something, but I really don’t feel all that bothered by the North London Derby. Of course it’s the first game I look for when the fixtures are announced; of course I don’t like ‘them’ or their sensationalist fans; and of course I rejoice when they lose. Yet, for me, they are mere geographical rivals. Arsenal vs Tottenham shouldn’t be the biggest game of our season. Put simply, we should have bigger fish to fry.
Sure I enjoy beating Tottenham, and I love nothing more than exchanging insults with the enemy, but the games I really look forward to are the late spring evenings as Arsenal chase the Premier League Title, or the knock out rounds of the Champions League.
I get excited by Arsenal vs Tottenham but not in the same way as matches against the elite. Arsenal are, for the moment at least, part of Europe’s elite. The North London Derby is Tottenham’s game of the season, not ours. It shows how far we’ve regressed that now the derby is not simply about short term bragging rights, but it’s actually significant in deciding where each team will finish each season.
It’s impossible to write about Arsenal these days without the blog or article becoming politicised. I’ve written extensively elsewhere on LadyArse about Arsene Wenger, the board, the owners, and it’s nice sometimes to forget about all that and just look forward to a football match.
It would be nice if we could forget about whether a fan is an ‘AKB’ or a ‘WOB’ and just enjoy football. Even before Munich, whilst we were certainly united as a fanbase in the build up to the game, no Arsenal fan realistically felt we could have won this year’s Champions League. Unfortunately, our performance in the first leg means that the second leg is unlikely to generate the excitement and passion among the fan base that the huge matches of years past did.
Even last year, there really weren’t many matches that made the hair on the back of your neck stick up, or caused you to lose a night’s sleep in desperate anticipation. However close we eventually came, no-one lost any sleep the night before the AC Milan game knowing we were already 4-0 down.
West Brom on the last day of the season was exciting, but arguably for the wrong reasons. We had everything to lose but little to gain. Finishing third was an accomplishment considering the season we had, but the final whistle brought the overwhelming sense of relief, not the joy and excitement that seduced many of us into become hardcore Arsenal fans.
I think back to the Barcelona games of 2009/10 and 2010/11. They were great nights at the new stadium, maybe even the best nights we’ve had there. Yet still there was the foreboding doom of a second leg at the Nou Camp against the best team in the world to temper any feelings of sheer ecstasy.
We’ve been lucky to enjoy so many great moments following a club whose fortunes can only be described as a roller coaster ride. Yet it’s been a while now since we’ve had a truly momentous occasion to look forward to. When we’ve been victorious against the other big teams in the league recently, we haven’t been challenging at the top of the table, and it’s taken some of the gloss from the victories – Beating Manchester United is great, but beating them when they’re second and Arsenal are first in the table is special. Our promising league campaigns of 2008, 2010 and 2011 all started unfolding by the end of March, and it’s been a while since I felt that buzz around the stadium.
Of course, one must realise how lucky we are to get to witness Champions League football at maybe the best, and definitely the most modern football stadium in the world. Every game is a blessing, and even games that you don’t expect much from can serve up the most unexpected delights, as anyone who attended the FA Cup 3rd round tie against Leeds last year can attest to. Obviously Arsenal are still one of the great British football clubs, and every game we play is a big game. Fans of other clubs probably look at their fixture list and circle Arsenal as one of their top games every season. Yet we’ve been starved of a true classic for some time now. Let’s hope it’s not too long before the ground is buzzing again.------------
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