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The Agony and Ecstasy of the Arsenal Fan

August 11th, 2017 · No Comments · Arsenal, English Premier League, Football, soccer

Being an Arsenal fan is the worst idea in sports.

Being an Arsenal fan is the greatest idea in sports.

No team in the world can look so elegant, so beautiful. And no team of Arsenal’s pedigree can look as shiftless and feckless.

Which is by way of introduction to the first Premier League match of the 2017-18 season, tonight at the Emirates:

Arsenal 4, Leicester City 3.

Had it all the way. Yeah. Sure. That’s our story and we’re sticking with it.

Arsenal fans live in what now is a perpetual state of anxiety.

The club is one of the biggest in the world and sometimes plays like it.

It also sometimes plays like 11 guys who met up in the parking lot and decided the three or four least talented of their group should play in the back — while everyone else focuses on scoring cracking goals after exquisite , 10-pass build-ups.

Arsenal can beat anyone when they have things going on, as in the FA Cup final last season, when they took down league champions Chelsea.

Arsenal can lose to just about anybody, as the 3-0 debacle away to Crystal Palace demonstrated.

And the remarkable thing is how this team now manages to carry this soccer schizophrenia from one season to the next.

It is assumed much of it stems from Arsene Wenger, the French coach of the club since 1996-97. Wenger was a visionary, back then, focusing on diet and conditioning when most of the Premier League was living on fish and chips and lager, and Arsenal won the league in 1998, 2002 and 2004. The latter club won the league without suffering a defeat and became known as the Invincibles.

Wenger is still around, getting crabby and persnickety, two months short of his 68th birthday, and his club for a decade-plus has developed (and now seemingly perfected) the ability to look sublime and ridiculous in the same match.

Such as tonight’s victory over Leicester.

Ahead of the new season, Arsenal added only a few players, notably¬† Alexandre Lacazette, a shifty forward purchased from Lyon for approximately $60 million, a club record and about $1 billion in Wenger’s world; like many senior citizens he hates to overspend. He also treats the company’s money like his own, which explains Arsenal’s chronic lack of a great player.

Lacazette scored a nice goal two minutes into his Arsenal career, and what a glorious night it was going to be. Well, of course not. That is not how Arsenal rolls.

Leicester got even two minutes later, and the next two hours were about 90 percent misery for Wenger, the players and, most of the all, the fans.

Wenger has developed a habit of wringing his hands throughout a match, to the point that it looks as if he might just unscrew them from his wrists and fling them onto the pitch.

The crowd feeds on (and contributes to) his anxiety. Even before kickoff, pundits were speculating how weird/ugly it could get in Arsenal’s own stadium if the Gunners lost their opening match for the seventh time in eight seasons. When would the “Wenger out!” chants begin?

The tension ramped up as Jamie Vardy put Leicester ahead 2-1 and then 3-2 in the second half as Arsenal’s back three appeared deeply confused over their responsibilities — or perhaps what, exactly, was expected from them — beyond watching Vardy score.

With about 20 minutes left, Wenger sent in attacking midfielder Aaron Ramsey and forward Olivier Giroud, a toss of the dice to see if Arsenal could snag at least a goal to avoid losing at home to a Leicester side unlikely to finish in the top 10.

(He also suddenly reconfigured his formation from 3-4-3 to 4-4-2, with a midfielder playing right back, two left backs playing at center back and a right back playing at left back. Not that there was any panic in the air.)

Ramsey made it 3-3 in the 83rd minute, and Giroud, a rugged side of French boeuf known for his Franco-Prussian War beard, lack of foot speed and skill in the air, headed in the winner in the 85th minute even as he was having his shirt removed by a Leicester City defender.

A seven-goal thriller, as they say in England.

Just like Arsene planned it!

(Cue Arsenal fans singing Gee-rood! to the tune of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. La, la, la, la-la-la-la, la-la-la, Gee-rood!)

So, if you were counting, that was 83 playing minutes of misery and seven minutes of celebration for Arsenal supporters, who left the stadium both giddy and exhausted, again. Deeply torn, again, over whether or not Wenger is part of the problem or part of the solution for this often precious, typically maddening and occasionally beautiful side.

At least, in this case, the Gunners were polite enough to win.



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