I once tried not to like Die Hard. I wrote down all the things that were wrong about it:
1. Bruce Willis is a monumental bell-end in real life
2. I have uncomfortably sexual feelings towards Alan Rickman’s beard
3. I don’t like vests.
That was all I could manage. I regularly go through a similar exercise with Arsenal. Wealthy, successful, illustrious and all this taking place from within their lavish home in that fancy London, it should be easy to spit in their general direction.
But try as I might I can’t help but harbour a certain, dewy-eyed affection for them. I imagine that the sometimes slobberingly harsh criticism of that 7 year trophy drought might all just be founded in the same kind of sentiment – we want them to do well.
We may not want them to beat our own team, but I suspect that a fair minded football fan would sooner see a strong Arsenal team than snigger at a weak one. Had Arsenal suffered a Category Moyes meltdown I choose to believe, perhaps naively, that it wouldn’t be greeted with quite so much glee as when Manchester United collectively channeled the spirit of Eric Djemba Djemba and crumbled like moist biscuit.
There have been, of course, accusations of a media bias towards Arsenal. Jose Mourinho is so incensed with this perceived favoritism he appears to have ripped the sleeves off a perfectly good coat. But, in fairness, I think there probably is an unusual amount of goodwill towards Arsene Wenger.
Wenger is of course credited with revolutionising English football. Maybe, maybe not, but it would be churlish to not remember that while today we have a Mourinho, Pellegrini, Van Gaal Premier League, back in 1996 there were top flight jobs to be had for Joe Kinnear and Dave Bassett. That’s not to say the billions that have whisked in and out of the game since then didn’t have the greatest hand in the transformation, but I suspect the Wenger blueprint turned more than a few heads amongst Premier League chairmen.
And of course, he seems like a nice chap. Mourinho’s ‘specialist in failure’ remark was a little like watching David Attenborough get pushed down a hill. ‘Well, you’re a specialist in being tiny and mean and smelling like Nandos’ the Wenger apologists rather meakly retorted. Quietly. To themselves.
The truth is that if Wenger is a specialist in failure he isn’t very good at it. Applying for a job as Chief Executive for Footballing Disappointment he would have to craftily remove from his CV the bits about Premier League titles, FA Cups, 16 years of perpetual presence in the Champions League and signing and moulding some of the seminal players of this era. ‘Bad at jigsaws’ he could try. ‘Occasionally poor choice of outerwear’. ‘Can’t grow a beard’.
Out of the Woods
I can sense that this piece too feels a lot like Arsene Apologism. ‘What about the trophy wilderness?’ disgruntled Gunners may ask. Without meaning to sound glib, aren’t those days now, by definition, over? Arsenal could quite easily have slipped into a Tiger Woods decline in which, with every passing year, they seem further from their past glories. Arsenal may not have been at the very top during that period but Arsene Wenger never let them slip more than a baguette’s length away.
Some Arsenal fans may feel quite differently, it is after all their club. But from an outsider’s perspective peering in as one of Eurpoe’s most exciting attackers, Alexis Sanchez, is paraded around; as a sixteenth consecutive year in the Champions League awaits; as the FA Cup sits there propping up the many multi-million pound sponsorship offers their highly competent board needs to sift through, I can see how we wouldn’t like you, but I struggle to understand how you don’t.