Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Arsenal and the vicious trapezoid

By Ed g2s - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The trouble with Arsenal is the Emirates. Some Arsenal fans regularly visit this state of the art, enormous modern stadium. They can’t see an empty seat in the house. They know that the waiting list for their season ticket can be measured in years and they wonder why they can’t be more like… well just more.

With each disappointing result or performance the assembled punditry on media, mainstream and social reflect on how the club, under Wenger, are not moving forward. By forward, of course, meaning upward or toward the top of the league.

Outside the Emirates, last Tuesday (07/03), a number of Arsenal fans are declaring through the medium of song that Arsene Wenger: is killing their club. Whoever is working the camera is only using close ups, in the style of J Lee Thompson, director of Battle For The Planet Of the Apes. This technique is often used to make the scene look more expensive and expansive than it appears. Protests, pundits, Arsenal Twitter, Arsenal Fan TV: all these elements cross-over and create a conversation that has narrowed to the tip of an arrow. Which is a shame because a gun metaphor would have been far more appropriate.

From a certain point of view the accusation that Wenger is ‘killing our club’ is absurd. Under the Arsenal manager, the Gunners have gone from being a mostly upper mid table club that play mostly shit football to being, at its peak, an unbeatable blend of grace and physicality with a killer instinct. At their worst they are serial qualifiers for the Champions League and occasional winners of knock out cups. What, to most, is the apex, is to some routine and boring. Boring to the point where people willing to risk ridicule and scorn on social media by appearing as screaming, entitled man-babies on YouTube.

At this point it is customary for the author to put forth a robust defence of the boy Wenger, possibly by providing data on Arsenal’s seasonal transfer spend by comparison to their contemporaries. However, this does not really help to change people’s minds. You’re either for Wenger or agin him. The heart of the argument is Wenger himself. He is Arsenal. There can’t be an inch of marble left untouched by his hand. Wenger has made the club what it is and frankly for some that is no longer sufficient. They look across at their free-scoring London rivals to the west and in the north west of England and ask “Why can’t this be us?”.

In short, Arsenal are close, agonisingly so but not close enough. And under Wenger they may never be close enough. Not necessarily because he isn’t up to it (although that’s possible) but because Arsenal aren't wired that way. They occupy that mini tier of clubs that are better at football than most but not quite as good as the three (and it’s normally three) above them. It is a tier of one: the Arsenal tier. Clubs in this tier struggle against clubs in the tier above but what really keeps them in that tier is the occasional poor result against Watford. It is a comfortable place in which to be and one assumes that the collection of old and new money that owns Arsenal FC are comfortable with the arrangement. If not they would have sacked him.

So there it is. A circle so vicious, its inside so tortured, that it has punched itself into a trapezoid. Those that appreciate the remarkable feat of Arsene Wenger keeping this traditional club at the European top table, year after year can only shake their heads in frustration at their Arsenal supporting brethren (and it does seem to be mostly brethren) who, in turn, look on with envious eyes at their Chelsea supporting workmates. Thanks to the innovation of Social Media it is an anguish the rest of us can all enjoy.