Football is at times like a 90 minute movie with a 15 minute interval. Sometimes it is a crime-thriller – you steal a goal and a win at the last minute after a pulsating contest. Sometimes it is just the brutality of Rambo – a free-scoring team decimating the opponent. And sometimes it is a romantic drama – the runs into spaces and the beautiful passing game. But the difference between the two is that the genre is not known beforehand when it comes to football. A team may have a set pattern of play but the game has an element of unpredictability with each opponent bringing with them their own style. The kaleidoscopic picture painted when two different styles combine is what makes the sport so exciting.
But just as with movies, fans don’t want to have the same experience over and over again. After watching a string of horror movies you would want to watch something with humor in it. Else boredom will set in and the whole concept of movies may seem empty thereon. People worship football for the gamut of emotions felt over the course of the season. But season after season of predictability would leave the fans in doldrums. That led me to the question – How difficult is it to be an Arsenal fan?
Since they last experienced ecstasy in 2005 Arsenal have had close to eight seasons of monotony. An Arsenal season in a nutshell would be thus – start the season with a fitting reply to the critics who had written them off; be among the title challengers about halfway through the season; get eliminated from all competitions by March; end the season by qualifying for the Champions League. The only anachronisms during this period have been their appearance in three cup finals. They reached the Champions League final in 2006 and the English League Cup final in 2007 and 2011. Of this the 2-1 loss to Birmingham would’ve stung them the most. Barring these three occasions Arsenal have consistently managed to end most of their pursuits by March and on rare occasions, in April or May. So despite enjoying some thrilling cup runs which have included wins against the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Juventus, the fans wouldn’t want to remember any of it owing to the bitterness of the climax. But during this period they’ve entertained fans with some breathtaking football. Goals this season by Jack Wilshere’s against Norwich and Tomáš Rosický against Sunderland had the football world purring at the exquisiteness of the buildup and the quality of the finish. But skeptics here point out that Arsenal are always set up the same way. There is none of the digging deep to grind out results or a plan B if the team falls behind. After Sir Alex’s biography presented a blueprint of the counter to Arsenal’s ‘beautiful football’ on a platter we have seen teams wreck them apart this season with some humiliating drubbings. And thus the team that led the league for 128 days look to be ending the season with a fight for the Champions League spots yet again.
Meanwhile teams around them have all gone through a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Man United have won league titles, league cups and the European cup – a variety. Chelsea have seen eight different managers take charge and their fans have seen the team play the whole spectrum of football – defensive stubbornness to scoring a league record of 103 goals. City have gone from mid table obscurity to league champions. Liverpool have won a couple of trophies, challenged for the title and witnessed seasons with and without European football and suffered delirium. Their biggest rivals Spurs have won a league cup and experienced the top European competition for the first time since 1961-62. Even the bottom half teams have undergone a myriad of emotions – the relegation battle, the survival, the drop, the promotion and at times beating a big team and an exciting cup run. According to me Arsenal fans have had to experience more hurt than even the teams that have been relegated over the years because of the building up of high hopes followed by the bigger fall of humdrum and hurt. The point I’m trying to make here is that football isn’t all about winning, although that is the most preferred state of being. Despite scores of teams competing every year you can only have one league champion and one cup winner. So for most it is experiencing the feelings of pride, passion, fervor, despondency, excitement and bliss over the course of the season.
This is most definitely not a criticism of Arsène Wenger. Make no mistake, he is an outstanding manager. Delivering Champions League football for sixteen consecutive seasons is no mean task. But after nine long years the supporters would love to cap off their patience with some silverware. The FA cup this year sees Arsenal reach their fourth final during this period against Hull City who were just promoted this season. The odds favour Arsenal so heavily that one would assume they already have one hand on the trophy. But after numerous heartaches the supporters wouldn’t take anything for granted till they have both their hands on the trophy. After nine years will the euphoria be the genre they experience at least this time?