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The Quiet Hopelessness of Arsenal Fans

August 27th, 2015 · No Comments · Arsenal, English Premier League, Football, Hong Kong, soccer

I am a sort of Arsenal fan. Not a live-and-die fan. I would never say that. Not when I was only vaguely aware the club existed for at least the first half of my life.

Not until we spent four months in Hong Kong, 2008-09, did I consider the concept of having a preferred Premier League club. It seemed pretty much required of anyone living in the Old World.

That process was laid out on this blog, beginning with a Whom Should I Support? post.

Eighteen months later, I realized I had decided by not deciding, that no one had outstripped the club that even in that first post was in the No. 1 spot.


At the time, I was a bit worried about choosing one of the Big Four and being designated a front-runner.  Goodness knows, where we live is a citadel of front-running. People in the UAE like Barcelona or they like Real Madrid. How daring is that.

I didn’t realize, right away, but it has become clear, over the course of five years, that being an Arsenal fan is to do more than a little suffering.

Arsenal is one of England’s leading teams, but that doesn’t mean the club should be expected to win the Premier League championship. Not this year. Not next year. Not in our lifetimes.

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal coach, introduced a couple of concepts to England.

One is the notion that just because you play in England doesn’t mean you have to do so with English players. Arsenal routinely takes the field without an Englishman in the starting XI. This is not a problem for me, but it is for Arsenal’s English fans. Sometimes.

The reason Wenger has very few English in his team is the second concept he brought to the league: Attractive, passing soccer. Holding the ball. Moving it around. Making a dozen consecutive passes. Which is not what English players historically are good at. They like to play it in the air and knock it in the “mixer” in front of goal and let the big lad head it in.

Wenger turned up in London in 1996, and what he had planned was revolutionary. A modern approach to the game that led to three league championships in his first eight seasons, along with four FA Cups in nine seasons.

But since?

His revolution got stale.

Arsenal fans still admire the passing and an approach to the game that seems to believe it is a non-contact sport, and Wenger still is seen mostly as courtly and reasonable and financially responsible.

But a decade later, the club seems stuck in a rut. A lot of clubs would love to be in the same rut — 18 consecutive appearances in the Uefa Champions League, 18 consecutive finishes in the top four of the league.

But what goes with that generic goodness is specific inability to win the league.

Arsenal is too soft, too predictable, not direct enough, and the coach is more interested in assembling a dozen elegant midfielders than in finding one great scorer. That is the common view, and it’s hard to dismiss.

It seems as if the concept of “attractive soccer” is enough for Wenger, and Arsenal, and they go about it even now.

But …

But, they have not won the Premier League since 2004. They have not finished second in 10 years, instead toggling between third and fourth.

Arsenal fans are not abandoning their team because it hasn’t won the league in quite a while now, but I do sense that they have given up on being No. 1 in England. The fussy, fusty Wenger, now 65, and his teams, are not hard enough, not ruthless enough to win a championship.

I am convinced, five years after declaring my allegiance, that Arsenal fans have given up the idea of winning the two most important competitions an English team can win — the Premier League and the Champions League.

What they do expect is a competitive side who reach the Champions League, but a fourth-place finish in the league and an appearance in the final eight of the Champions League is about as far as their ambitions go, these days. Not to actually win one of those two.

(Thank goodness for the FA Cup. One of the great tournaments in sports, and Arsenal has won the past two, ending a decade of not winning a significant trophy.)

I had not realized entirely what I was signing up for. I do now. Arsenal often will be beautiful to watch, and the technical skills of their mob of midfielders are a sight to behold, but winning something important?

Not going to happen for Arsenal.

That leaves their fans a band of quiet depressives, living on the domination of the bottom half of the Premier League, the occasional victory over a Chelsea, a Manchester United, a Manchester City, and the occasional result over one of Europe’s big clubs in the Champions League.

Arsenal fans are usually the quiet ones. Not talking big, hardly talking at all.

I’m not sure many of them would trade a couple years out of the Champions League for one more Premier League title. Not a choice they get to make.


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