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For Once, a Proud Arsenal Fan

September 2nd, 2019 · No Comments · Arsenal, English Premier League, Football, soccer

Anyone with the patience to follow this blog knows that every now and then … OK, maybe once a month … I go on a rant about how feckless is Arsenal FC, the London club I chose, a decade ago, to offer my support (mostly in the form of psychic energy), in all their competitions. Before I had really thought this through.

I have explained how it happened that, as a mid-life soccer-team free agent, I landed on the Gunners (Stade de France, 2009), when they were still considered an elite side. And how I soon realized I had connected with a team sliding, almost imperceptibly, but steadily, towards mediocrity.

That led to headlines here like the following:

“The Trials and Tribulations of the Arsenal Fan”

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Arsenal Fan”

“Arsene and Arsenal: Time for a Breakup”

“Arsenal Angst, as Always”

“The Quiet Hopelessness of Arsenal Fans”

And like that. At least once every disappointing season — which has been pretty much all of them since The Invincibles (2003-04).

Of late, the default psychological position for Gunners fans has been this: “Please, not another humiliation by one of the other Big Six. Or one of the Little 14, for that matter.”

Then came yesterday, when Arsenal gifted north London rival Tottenham a 2-0 first-half lead, including a Harry Kane penalty from the kind of ridiculous challenge Granit Xhaka has nearly perfected, and then fought back (you read that right; fought back) to turn in the sort of inspired, semi-crazed, lung-busting, thoroughly entertaining, full-blast performance some of us had come to believe was the province of any club that wasn’t Arsenal.

It ended 2-2, in an up-and-down thriller that entranced everyone watching but also made both clubs seem a bit more lovable and definitely more interesting because of their still obvious shortcomings. (Defense, anyone?)

Wrote Jonathan Wilson in The Guardian: “It is a truism that modern football is about transitions, whether from defense to attack or attack to defense, but this was a game that seemed to consist of nothing but transitions. At no point was either side willing to, or perhaps capable of, putting together a sustained spell of possession, of calming the game down, of taking control.

“Relish the tumult, revel in the pandemonium, but let nobody pretend this sort of harum-scarum, this frenzy of attacking, is the football of title challengers.”

But it IS the football of a team worthy of support. Especially on the Arsenal side, worn down and jaded by 15 seasons of not winning anything more interesting than the FA Cup (Which would have been plenty, if this were 1919) and finding themselves tethered to what seemed one of the softest sides, both mentally and physically, in world football.

Arsenal’s performance yesterday was so odd that I am almost certain I heard Arsenal fans singing. Chanting. And I didn’t even know Arsenal fans ever sang or chanted or did anything but bite their nails and periodically cringe.

Last year, I wrote of the club, in the final days of coach Arsene Wenger:

“Wenger seems to prefer almost delicate, Smurf-sized players who have exquisite skills — but seem at risk of being pushed around by equally skilled players who bring a little more physicality to the proceedings.

“Thus, a sense of a steady and inexorable slide into mediocrity, which is one of the worst outcomes for a group of fans. Water torture. Death by a thousand cuts.

“Since 2004 … from perennial contender to also-ran; from Champions League sure thing to Europa League; from serial winners to three FA Cup victories, just when none of the big clubs really cares about the FA Cup till the final few rounds.

“It no longer is clear Wenger or club executives have a plan. They seem loath to spend like the Manchester clubs do, and they have been losing their best players to other Premier League sides for years now.”

And then, this, out of the blue on Sunday evening.

Arsenal’s guys chased every ball. Every possession was a chance to score. They pressed, they out-worked, they even bullied. (Yes, they have a hard man or two.)

A superb goal by Alexandre Lacazette, who forced himself between defenders while retaining the ball, just before the break, staving off what would have been a chorus of 0-2 boos.

The second half seemed even more crazed, to the point that fans had to wonder when Arsenal was going to hit “empty” in the fuel tanks. Matteo Guendouzi was everywhere, stealing possession, instantly pushing toward goal. Tottenham was just hanging on till it wasn’t, when Guendouzi sliced a pass to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang that the Gabonese forward redirected into the net. 2-2!

Soon after, on a restart, it seemed Arsenal had taken a well-deserved lead off a practice-pitch play, from Guendouzi to Sead Kolasinac, on the other side of the pitch, and the latter’s cross at the goalie box was tapped in by the burly Sokratis “Hard Man” Papastathopolous! The lead! They had done it! But wait.

Kolasinac was a yard offside.

I thought that might crush this perhaps fragile new Arsenal spirit. Instead, the Gunners seemed to turn it up to 11 on a scale of 10. Several good chances taken by new recruit Pepe, late sub Dani Ceballos a danger on every touch, Mkhitaryan in the box, trying to pull the trigger …

Not quite. Not quite.

The Gunners ran ran out of time before they ran out of will.

I had never seen an Arsenal team play that way. I had never seen one push so hard for so long. It was revelatory. Mind-expanding. Endearing.

The kind of effort that brings back fans (including this one) for the next match.


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