I woke up Sunday morning in a cold sweat.
Part of this was a mild bout of gastroenteritis, which was delightful.
But part of it was an eerie premonition about the United @ Arsenal game that had played overnight.
For the past two weeks, thanks to another hated international break, all Arsenal fans had heard was news of injuries to United players. Rojo – out. Blind – out. Falcao – out. United was fielding a 3-man defence featuring the fearsome trio of Smalling, McNair and ‘Blackett’, guaranteed to get at least one Did you mean, ‘Beckham’? in a United Google search. I’d become smugger and more confident with each passing day. Let’s face it – it’s not like this is the REAL United anyway. This is the new, David Moyes-tainted, Louis van G(insert throat noise here)l-“led” band of overpaid misfits like the overmatched Luke Shaw and our embattled old friend RVP. This was hardly the Fergie-inspired team of Giggs’ and Scholes’ tearing up the midfield.
Yet as I woke, there was NO question in my mind. Arsenal had lost. Checking the score was just confirmation
And when I did so, there it was: a 2-1 loss at home to our most hated rival (I can’t seriously count Tottenham above United), even while we dominated possession and they were at their weakest.
It was so Arsenaly that I could barely even believe it.
Nick Hornby gets it
The most Arsenaly book on supporting Arsenal ever is the great Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. You may also have seen the decent movie adaptation featuring Colin Firth or the woeful translocation with Jimmy Fallon. In it, Hornby autobiographically describes the blind, painful devotion that Arsenal fans have – to the point of sabotaging their own lives – even while simultaneously despairing that good will ever occur for them and the club. Arsenal would mismanage themselves into losses throughout the late 20th century, occasionally fluking a couple victories along the way, driving their fans to (more) drink.
The deepest levels of despair at Arsenal in the 21st century, however, are not caused by losses. Not really. They’re caused by our player transfer policy.
Arsenal did an amazing job through the first years of the 21st century keeping the team successful, in the Champions League race and financially viable even as other teams around the league (notably Leeds & Portsmouth) went bankrupt and yet others (notably Chelsea and Man City) won, yet outlaid horrific amounts of money to do so. Arsenal even designed, built and paid off a brand new stadium in the heart of London during this time, in part due to some high profit sales (thanks Real Madrid!) and some low-price purchases (thanks Southampton Academy!).
But it has happened at the expense of success. For nine long years, Arsenal was trophyless, before finally winning the FA Cup last year. So Arsenal fans have become accustomed to failure. Not the abject kind of failure that mires you in relegation battles, but rather, the failure that brings new false hope every year.
Will this finally be the year we win the League again? Or will we be reduced to playing for Wenger’s ‘fourth-place trophy’, a place in the lucrative Champions League?
Introducing, the Seven Circles Of Highbury. The seven hellish levels of Arsenal’s transfer policy.
1: You Only Know You Love Them When You Let Them Go
The first two levels need to be clarified. There is pain in long-drawn out transfer sagas. But sometimes you feel like you can’t ask more from a player.
Thierry Henry is arguably the greatest Gunner ever and certainly my favourite. The inspired genius led us to two titles and three FA cups in 8 years, while being twice nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year and twice winning the PFA Player of the Year.
After all that, we still got 24 million Euros for him as a 29-year old.
Ohbytheway. He then came back on loan for us last year, kicked the winning goal late in an FA Cup tie in his first match, then in his last match scored the winning goal in stoppage time against Sunderland.
It hurt when he left, but the healing was amazing.
2: It Must Have Been Love (But It’s Over Now)
It was always going to happen. Any time you get begged publically by Lionel Messi to be your teammate, you’re going to think about it. Fabregas, product of the Barcelona youth system, was a great captain in a tough time for Arsenal. He gave them 8 magnificent years but always pined for the team of his youth and the country of his birth. Sometimes if you love them, you have to let them go.
And we couldn’t match the combined sweat, lice and back hair of Carles Puyol. That was a hard pill to swallow. Not as hard as him returning to play for Chelsea, but still.
3: You’re Not The Only One With Mixed Emotions
Kolo anchored our central defence with Sol Campbell for years. He was tough, aggressive and – best of all – we hoped we could get his younger brother Yaya Toure across. We didn’t – Arsenal, remember? – but the false hope was there!
In fairness, what more could we ask of the Kolo Toure years? We bought him as a 21 year-old for 150,000 pounds. We sold him as a 29-year old for 16 million pounds. I will TAKE that return on investment. Thanks, ridiculously stupid Manchester City owners. If only you’d buy more players from us at outrageous prices. You will? Great!
Note: At Man City Toure lost the captain’s armband (figuratively, not literally) to Carlos Tevez of all people, then was suspended for 6 months for failing a drug test.
Good sell Wenger. GOOD sell.
4: Said I Loved You, But I Lied
It’s hard to know how to take the Anelka years. He dominated as a young man, before sulking his way out the door to Real Madrid and the Galacticos. We all hated him at the time, but made 22 million pounds off a two-year investment, for a player that didn’t mature (as an adult) for many years to come. He later had stints at City, Chelsea, Bolton and West Brom, but it’s hard to muster up any angst about a player who arguably peaked, at Arsenal, at age 19, before making an enormous profit off him.
5: You Killed My Family. But I Will Have My Vengeance.
Ashley Cole, Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor
This level is reserved for players who were talented, yet spat in the eyes of Arsenal fans on their way out the door. These players are doomed to a cold grave from Arsenal faithful.
Ca$hley Cole. The Arsenal youth product was involved in illegal meetings with Chelsea prior to being signed there, nearly ‘crashed his car’ on learning that Arsenal would ‘only’ offer him 55,000 pounds a week and claimed that Arsenal made him a ‘scapegoat’. He also married (and divorced) Cheryl Tweedy, then went on to have one of the greatest defensive careers in history for cross-town rivals Chelsea.
I hate Ashley Cole.
Samir Nasri. Nasri had a woeful two years at Arsenal, before a break-out season – which he promptly used to secure a transfer to Manchester City. He called Arsenal fans ‘dispassionate’ – and worse, called the City bandwagoners more passionate – and told them he would win a trophy before Arsenal did. He was right.
I hate Samir Nasri.
Emmanuel Adebayor. Adebayor openly courted AC Milan whilst playing for Arsenal and ended up making a 25 million pound move to City, calling them a ‘bigger’ club. In his first match against Arsenal, he deliberately kicked Robin Van Persie in the face and ran the length of the pitch just to do a goal celebration in front of visiting Arsenal fans. Since then his career has slowly kept going downhill and he is currently sucking for Tottenham’s current woeful 2014 team.
I kind of like Emmanuel Adebayor.
6: NOT IN THE FACE!
Vieira is one of Arsenal’s greatest captains, the man who led our 2003-04 Invincibles. A four-time FA Cup winner with the club, he was involved in a tunnel fight with Roy Keane and then kicked the winning penalty to beat United in the FA Cup with his final kick as a Gunner, before moving to Juventus. How do you not love that?
Here’s how: he returned to the Premier League with Manchester City, won the FA Cup, convinced Nasri to join the club and now works there as the Manager of their Reserves squad.
As Spongebob would say, PATRIIIIIIIIIICK!
7: NOT IN THE FACE, THEN THE GROIN, THEN THE FACE AGAIN!
Robin Van Persie
I can’t talk rationally about my favourite Gunner joining my most hated team. I just can’t. Any time your talismanic gets sold to a rival…well, when you’re an Arsenal fan, you call that ‘August’.
I LOVED YOU ROBIN. WE ALL LOVED YOU. WHY? WHY?
Oh. He says he wanted to win championships. Which he did. If only there was a way to make him suffer afterwards.
The Most Arsenaly thing
The Most Arsenaly Thing about being an Arsenal fan, is that players leave saying they want to win titles, then immediately do. That’s why they never leave to go to Liverpool.
It seems that, year after year, we have to be content with battling for a fourth-place finish, signing one single great player (this year it’s Alexis Sanchez, who I am in love with. No judgment), then watching that one great play toil valiantly amongst overmatched, overly-creative, weak-willed, injury-ridden…players that I also love.
It could be worse, I guess.
Could be a Spurs fan.