The hours that have followed the Blackburn defeat have not been much fun. Recriminations have been fast and fierce, arguments have erupted all over the place and certain segments of the press corp are swirling like vultures around a wounded animal. Players are aware that they have let themselves and the club down, the manager is coming under fire and fans are turning on each other. We’ve had better times.
At moments like this you need a siege mentality, a closing of ranks and a middle finger up to the rest of the footballing fraternity, while the club staggers to its feet, punch drunk but swinging for the fences. Instead, we have more infighting than I can ever remember, focused on the future of the man who has been at the helm for the last sixteen years. People will have you believe that fans are firmly in two camps, and two camps only – those who refuse to criticise Wenger and are desperate for him to stay, and those that insist he should have gone long ago. Although there are probably a fair chunk of people whose opinions can accurately be described by one of those two polarisations, I suspect the majority are somewhere in the intermediate, between believing in him but carrying doubts, and suspecting his time is closing but hoping for a glorious finale. Nothing is ever as black and white as the picture painted in the monochrome of the red top.
I’m not here about to declare myself to be on one side or another – I’m sad that there are sides at all. Battle lines have long since been drawn, but now they are reinforced with sandbags of bile. We’re all guilty of it to an extent – you see a post or a comment that you think is unreasonable or antagonistic towards what you believe, and you can react. Human nature, perhaps, but the anger is misplaced. Ultimately, whether we think Wenger is the man to lead the club forward, whether we think a replacement is urgently needed, whether we believe in each player or not, we all have one thing in common – we want the best for Arsenal Football Club. We’re on the same side.
It doesn’t always seem that way. One thing I will always object to is the needless abuse that is being flung around with increasing abandon. By all means state whatever opinion you hold, and vociferously defend it, but when people start describing our players and our manager with the strongest possible abusive insults a line has to be drawn. Arsene Wenger is not a cunt, as was written in the comments of my last piece. When did we start thinking such descriptions were acceptable? Save those terms for the deserving. John Terry. El Hadji Diouf. James Blunt.
People with differing opinions are not the enemy. Spurs are the enemy. Chelsea are the enemy. Mike Dean is the enemy. Interesting debate is available with those holding a happier or darker perspective on the club’s situation, if you look for it. I follow plenty of people on Twitter whose outlook is radically different from mine – I read and engage with what they have to say because although I often disagree with their point of view, they express it in a thought provoking and intelligent way. Sometimes that debate gets a little spiky but if it ever developed into abuse I’d make sure we never crossed paths again (or at least I’d try to – Twitter has a habit of making even the blocked appear on one’s timeline – no matter how much I try to exclude anything written by Barton or Morgan, the two wastes of oxygen still invade).
Put another way – if you need to vent, pick an appropriate target. While people connected to our club might frustrate, they’re still ours. The rest of the packed (or recently slightly gappy) stadium are just more of us. Anger is being woefully misplaced.
All the more ironic, then, that some who fire anger in an unhelpful direction are critiquing Wenger for doing likewise in a press conference earlier today. Even the claim that his anger was as inaccurately targeted as a Gervinho shot is up for debate, as the bone of contention was an unfounded newspaper story about a prospective new contract, a piece that was planted with the clear and obvious aim of turning an unsettled fanbase outright hostile. But it all adds to the story that the press gleefully lap up.
Meltdown, they say. He’s losing it, they claim. Actually, if you watch the video you’ll see mild irritation at best, a bit of crankiness after sixteen years of banal questions and unhelpful spin. I don’t have a problem with that, and I suspect that few do. His tetchy demeanour isn’t the real story, and wouldn’t even get a mention if we were on better form.
But we’re not. As Arseblogger pointed out on Radio 5 this evening, people are quick to jump down his throat because of their overall frustration – at the state of the squad, at the two cup defeats to lower league opposition, at the league position, at the directionless feel of the football club as a whole.
That is the crux, and that frustration is shared between everyone connected to the club. The rest is fluff – don’t go believing that Wenger is losing it because he calls a journalist out on an fuse-lit plant of a story. Don’t dish out abuse to a man who, whatever you think of our (and his) malaise, deserves respect. We’re better than that. We’re Arsenal.
A sickly Arsenal, granted. But Arsenal nonetheless.