The Gunners are guilty of harbouring the whingiest supporters in England, writes Chas Newkey-Burden, but here's why...
Every supporter loves a moan. But over the last few years, one club’s fans have moved beyond moaning to whining, taken it to the realm of a drama queen and kept on going. I know, because I’m one of them.
- 2005/06 4th
- 2006/07 4th
- 2007/08 3rd
- 2008/09 4th
- 2009/10 3rd
- 2010/11 4th
- 2011/12 3rd
- 2012/13 4th
- 2013/14 4th
Arsenal barely need to concede a throw-in at the Emirates before a sizeable proportion of the home crowd erupts into apocalyptic hysteria that would make a Daily Express front-page headline writer blush.
If there were a global tournament of whinging football fans, us Gooners would win every year, before complaining that the medals aren’t quite big enough. Good grief, to listen to us most weekends you’d think we were bottom of the Conference South and about to crash into administration.
Instead, we’ve got world-class players, a majestic new stadium and financial security. We’re in the Champions League every year. We won the FA Cup a matter of months ago. Fans of other clubs wonder why we can’t stop grumbling. Things aren’t that bad, surely?
Paying for pride
Well, no, things aren’t that bad – but they are peculiar. Gunners fans are facing a set of circumstances which in isolation are nothing terrible, but in combination explain, if not excuse, our relentless gloom. Welcome to Arsenal’s perfect storm.
Firstly, we have the memory of a relatively recent run of significant success. Between 1998 and 2005 we won seven trophies, which included two doubles and an unbeaten league campaign. Such enjoyable times; then we collapsed into a nine-year trophy famine.
Keep that famine in mind as you regard the continued, and seemingly unshakeable presence of a now 65-year-old manager who was the architect of that glorious era but has delivered just a narrowly won FA Cup since. Perhaps you can already sense the raised eyebrows and hear the first sighs.
So let’s talk cash. Managerial salaries are a mysterious entity but Wenger is generally ranked as the highest or second-highest-paid manager in Britain. This seems to add to the frustration, particularly when you chuck in the fact that Arsenal’s tickets are the highest priced in Britain.
As we digest the fact that the cheapest Emirates season ticket is costlier than the most expensive at Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City, we want to stand on the roof of the Emirates and shout: “But the ticket-price table wasn’t the one we wanted to top!” Think about it: if you were asked to pay leading prices for fourth-rate goods you’d be a touch querulous, too.
What comes after third?
By the way, if you value your eardrums do not talk to any Gooner about what a bright future we can look forward to. For too many years Wenger and the board have pointed to a mythical future la-la land where the Gunners will tika-taka our way to every trophy going. Yet the much-vaunted future never quite arrives.
Instead, we remain stuck in a cycle of predictability. We finish fourth. We always finish fourth. This time last year we were top of the league, now we’re fifth - we knew then we’d finish fourth; we know now we’ll finish fourth. Why - because we always finish fourth. (Actually, we occasionally finish third. But in our heads, we always finish fourth.) As for the idiosyncrasies of our European record, well, the words ‘knocked out in the last 16’ have become hideously familiar.
Followers of volatile clubs may crave consistency – but trust me, you’d soon tire of it. It is a quest for adrenaline, not apathy, that makes any of us click the turnstile. Wenger has been boss for 18 years so we have the best part of a generation of fans who have never experienced that rush of excitement that comes when a new regime sweeps a mighty broom through a club. Instead, we face a narrative of such familiarity each year that we have to look in the mirror to check we have not turned into Bill Murray.
Even that rabble up the Seven Sisters Road have added to the mix by becoming consistently inferior to us. Arsenal and Spurs used to trade periods of ascendancy – but Spurs haven’t finished above us since 1995.
That was hilarious for a while but now the joke’s worn off because we no longer get excited about the north London derby, which is akin to cancelling Christmas Day. “Lads, it’s only Tottenham,” Sir Alex Ferguson told Manchester United players. Well, quite.
Our club is stable. Our modern stadium is paid for. We are not, as too many clubs are, a bad run of form or dodgy twist of fate away from doing a Pompey or Leeds. Even the very location of our ground feeds into the vibe. We’re not just in London, we’re in north London. We’re not just in north London, we’re in Islington – and we’re managed by a Frenchman. How can we be anything but whiny and aloof?
Arsenal's hokey cokey
Individually these factors may not seem that peculiar or problematic. Together, they are a recipe for a bellyaching atmosphere. Try the math: a recent-but-lost era of success plus elderly long-term manager plus top prices plus fourth place plus perennially insignificant local rivals plus stability plus poncey location equals one long moan.
And while I personally appreciate Mr Wenger’s continued presence at the club, my position is at odds with a growing number of the Arsenal faithful. As one fellow Gooner put it to me: “If we replaced Wenger we’d either finish 10th or we’d finish 1st – but we’ll never do either for as long as he stays.”
A reasonable argument perhaps, but even inter-fan discussions about Arsenal have long since become stale: Wenger in, Wenger Out – we’re all so polarised into our respective positions that there’s nothing exciting for us to argue about anymore.
All of which means the Arsenal fans have become the ‘first world problem’ whiners of football. No wonder Per Mertesacker has spoken of a lack of belief among the squad.
Without anything to really worry or complain about, us fans manufacture dumb drama after crazy crisis, which can only damage the confidence of the men who play in front of us. The negativity of Arsenal fans isn’t pretty and I suspect it isn’t going to change anytime soon.