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Monday 8 December 2008

Arsène Wenger’s Jeckyll & Hyde Army

I’m unsure whether it’s a change in attitudes of a Reality TV driven society in general, or the nature of football fans in particular that accounts for the abhorrent “pays your money, have your say” type behaviour, witnessed from so many Arsenal fans this weekend. It certainly doesn’t amount to my idea of “supporting” one’s team, to hear our own crowd laying into a player with such vociferous venom, that Wenger felt forced to sub the sub, saving him from further punishment by withdrawing him from the fray.

Having failed to secure that all-important second goal, as the Gunners contrived to shoot themselves in the foot during the nervy closing stages of Saturday’s encounter with Wigan, believe me, I was no less angry than anyone else, with Eboué’s succession of calamitous interventions. But from a purely objective point of view, it can’t possibly be of benefit to the club for our own crowd to slaughter one of our own assets, to the point where he ended up leaving the field as damaged goods, with Manny suffering the sort of psychological damage that’s far less straightforward to heal than any physical injury.

Since time immemorial, there’ve been boo-boys on the terraces who’ve had a tendency to pick on certain players, making them a scapegoat for all their team’s woes and it’s always bothered me how quick they’ve been to get on the backs of their pet target, instead of offering them some encouragement.

Yet where in the past teams could count on gaining a 12th man advantage from the inspiration afforded by the majority of their home crowd, sadly in more recent times, we’ve witnessed the demise of the sort of unconditional contract that once existed between a club and its fans, to express our support through thick and thin.

As evidenced by the way in which the league leaders were booed off at Anfield last week, after they failed to secure the 3 points their fans expected from a home game against West Ham, it seems that for the vast majority of fans nowadays, their support has become strictly conditional. Succeed and we will cheer you name to the rafters, fail and we'll make your life a living hell!

Having been guilty of the sort of immature behaviour that’s hardly endeared him to the majority of Gooners, Manny must be more than used to being given the bird by a section of the Arsenal crowd. Myself I was prepared to cut the Ivorian kid some slack. Considering he’d not seen any first team action since October, some ring rustiness wasn’t so surprising. But it wasn’t so much the booing that bothered me, because sadly it’s become par for the course when Eboué is out on the park. What I found utterly reprehensible was the way in which such a large proportion of our crowd rose as one, to revel in his departure, cheering almost as enthusiastically as they’d celebrated, when Adebayor scored what turned out to be the winning goal.

With what will have sounded to him like the jeers of the entire 60,000 crowd ringing in his ears, it’s no wonder Eboué trotted straight off down the tunnel, a broken man. Perhaps Wenger will still be able to make use of him away from home and it could prove expedient to get him straight back on the horse in Porto this week. However much as he did with Alex Song, after a nightmare performance at Craven Cottage a couple of seasons back, our manager might think it best for Manny to disappear long enough to rebuild his shattered confidence and to give the fans time to forget.

Although should this be the case, I hope our fickle fans are happy with their day’s work, doing such a consummate demolition job, when injuries and suspensions continue to take their toll and we end up regretting not having Eboué around as an option!

This lynch mob mentality is certainly not peculiar to the Arsenal (and is all too often media driven – as Paul Ince can doubtless testify) but much to my chagrin, it’s perhaps more apparent at our new place.

In a marvelous MOTD2 feature about the experience of blind fans at the Arsenal on TV on Sunday night (with Dixon & Keown on the couch, it was like an Arsenal love-in, aside from the presence of staunch Baggies fan, presenter Adrian Childs - although it's worth having an outsider because the involvement of a genuine footie fan makes MOTD2 eminently more watchable), I was amazed to hear it revealed that the club even installed a guide dog toilet area when building the new stadium. Yet having saved us from the perils of the doings of half a dozen highly trained labradors, the club don’t seem to have paid nearly so much heed to the problems of the huge piles of horseshit plopped liberally around the ground at every game.

Aside from such fabulous facilities for the blind, the principal consequence of our move has been the additional capacity. We now have 20,000 more fans coming to every home game, the majority of whom seem to show little or no understanding of the traditional obligations that used to come with the price of a football ticket. It’s a Premiership wide problem that our crowds no longer seem to show any appreciation of, or an inclination to play their role in the proceedings. But it is perhaps more prevalent at the Arsenal, because so many of the seats (one third!) are occupied by a passive theatre style audience that sits back and only responds on cue, either to the bringing on of the dancing girls, or the appearance of the pantomime villain.

Yet support is a two-way street, where in the face of a dip in form (or a descent into a positively cosmic chasm of cock-ups in Eboués case!), we can only be expected to remain staunch, so long as we’re confident there’s no lack of effort or commitment to the club’s cause. In an age where contracts are not worth the paper they are written on and agents can convince a player to change clubs with less deliberation than is involved in a change of underpants, our pipers motivation has become all the more debatable, as we question whether it’s merely pound notes which dictates their obscenely priced melody.

Obviously he’d be too old and too uncultured to feature on Arsène’s radar, but watching Fulham v Man City before our game on Saturday, it occurred to me that we could do far worse than signing an honest Cockney lad like Jimmy Bullard. Apart from the inspiration of his energetic efforts (and the fact that he strikes a wicked dead ball), he’d be the sort of player our fans could relate to.

My missus isn’t nearly so enthusiastic about accompanying me to matches recently, as in the absence of characters in the mould of Adams, Wright and Henry, Róna doesn’t get the sense that the current Arsenal squad shares that same level of burning passion for the club, that would see them run through brick walls for the Gunners cause. But then what can you expect, in an era of insincerity, when players can be kissing the badge on their shirt one day and using it to clean their Bentley’s (or should I say give it to the boy to do) the next.

Meanwhile questions about the modern day’s stars’ commitment might not be uncommon but I know I wasn’t alone on Saturday in being more than a little shocked by the complete lack of commonality with those around me. Bring on the Boro and a long schlep to the North-East that’s guaranteed to sift out the sort of genuine Gooners capable of restoring my faith in my Arsenal tribe.

To end on a more positive note, in a TV interview on Football Focus that reflected so well on the charm of our new captain (where I can only assume that the genial, but utterly clueless Manish must've been handed his questions), Cesc Fabregas told how he doesn’t owe anybody “apart from my dad, my mum and Arsène Wenger”. Doubtless he’ll have signed for Real Madrid before the transfer window is out!

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Anonymous said...

Well said. I believe we never boo our own and have said as much, though not nearly as eloquently as you have. Nice one.