Disclosure: The writer is an Arsenal fan. Nothing you say can hurt him, as much as his team does.
A week is a long time. Ask any football fan. To be precise, ask any Arsenal fan. It's a familiar script. Seven days ago, the Gunners were on the top of the table; now they are nine points behind leaders and cross-town rivals Chelsea. The same opponents they had defeated rather convincingly, not too long ago. There is almost the sense of misty-eyed nostalgia when you look back to that game where the entire team had been on song. It is typical of Arsenal, to create a false bubble of hope every season. In this utopia, mesmeric football is played for a full ninty minutes; languid and stylish players like Mesut Ozil reign supreme. The ball whistles on the smooth turf as it is pinged about in one-touch passes. Opposition defenders grow dizzy as Sanchez and Walcott run rings around them. Coquelin wins every tackle. Giroud towers to score every header. Cech saves every shot on target. Bellerin scorches the grass and the opposition defenders. Wenger is a tactical genius. And the Arsenal fans are happy.
That however is the picture we like to paint. Now what usually happens during the coming of Christmas is that this bubble is burst by the shiny pin-prick of reality. Arsenal fan groups and Facebook pages, which were gardens of positivity filled with sunshine until last week, are now death-ridden dystopias where hurricanes of negativity reign supreme. You will not find even a single positive comment. Millions of fans, suddenly awakened from their drugged state, have hit rock bottom. If you want to spot an Arsenal fan in a pub, look at the glum faced man who is staring into his drink as if it is an abyss (and make no mistake, the abyss is staring back at him). If you want to spot him on social media look out for posts with expletives and #WengerOut. These fans, having seen the heady days of the Invincibles, are now relegated to watching a team that promises but doesn’t deliver. A team which can be likened to a slick and stylish gun which does not backfire on you in the practice range but gets stuck when in a duel. All Arsenal fans can do is grin and bear it. Or they can smash the beer bottles on the walls or cry like little babies. Nothing they do will make the pain bearable. While other teams surge forward and their fans cheer with gusto, all the Arsenal fan can do is tweak Bob Dylan’s classic ballad, and sing it in a forlorn voice:
How many seasons must a fan see fail, before he can call himself an Arsenal fan?
You know you are in trouble when your team’s performance becomes a meme or a joke that goes viral. Arsenal has become synonymous with fourth, which is a spot on the table they are most comfortable in. In a sane world, this would have been a compliment, because it means Champions League football every year. But in a world driven by money, social media and greedy agents it simply isn’t enough. You have to win. Simple. Nobody remembers who came second (Arsenal did last year). Another long running joke is about the Arsenal fan’s ability to withstand heartbreak, because their team has been breaking their heart forever. Ouch.
Year after year it is the same story. For all practical purposes, every Arsenal fan is Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Every season is their season until it isn’t. The little scheming gnomes we have for players generally take a knock in the course of the season and are not seen by anyone except the physiotherapists for anything approaching eternity. For a long time, the excuse was: we are building a stadium. Well that done and dusted now. There is money in the coffers which has been spent, albeit rather reluctantly. There is no one left to blame now. Except the man who has been leading the club for over 20 years. Beloved as he may be, if Arsene Wenger may be in trouble soon and not because Piers Morgan has been tweeting about him. There is already a growing contingent of #WengerOut supporters who want a new manager to freshen up the club. But these fans must be careful of what they wish for. One only needs to look at united to see how a team struggles when a change of guard takes place.
Optimists will say this season isn’t even at the half way mark. Pessimists will say we won’t finish even fourth this year. And the poor old realist will say nothing, because he knows old lady football is a funny, funny game which can make the best of pundits look like clowns on ecstacy.
The funny thing with football is that instead of Arsenal, if you insert Liverpool, Tottenham or Manchester United here the basic premise will stand true. Being a football fan is about dealing with the crisis and the pain of a team thousands of miles away.
Whether this season will be Arsenal’s or not only time will tell. Till then all the fans can do is pray for their little Spanish saint, Santi Cazorla, to get fit. And while they are at the altar they could do lesser than request the gods to throw a spanner into the wheels of the Chelsea juggernaut. And maybe by the end of the season, if all the planets align in the right manner and all the dice fall the way they should, Arsenal will win the title. Even if they don’t, as Liverpool fans say, there’s always next year.
Karan Mujoo is a writer and an Arsenal fan