This piece originally appeared on www.just-football.com.
The worst thing about Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa – and the list is quite long – was that it was not even a surprise. It was like sitting through a film you watched countless times as a child but have not seen in years and cannot remember exactly. One by one, familiar events play out and long before the credits roll you’re back in the swing of things and reciting the characters’ lines before they do.
Arsenal’s latest capitulation had every trope for which the club is now renowned: an early goal, giving jittery fans false hope; promising build-up play but no cutting edge; a dramatic and hapless concession, throwing all previous good work out the window; a controversial refereeing blunder, destroying the players’ concentration, leads to further errors, a red card and total embarrassment; finally, the game ends to a chorus of boos from 60,000 halloumi-munching Guardianistas.
It is easy to blame Arsène Wenger’s lack of activity in the transfer market for this latest in the ever-growing list of catastrophes – and for that reason most of the mainstream media will do exactly that – but the problem at Arsenal is clearly more fundamental. Sadly, it could well be unsolvable.
In a nutshell: everyone there is always miserable. From the fans and players to Wenger and his backroom staff, all of their ingrained habits and thought processes are rooted in reflexive fear and loathing. All of their expended energy is entirely negative.
They all arrive on a match day expecting everything to go spectacularly wrong and for the crowd to turn and that is what happens. The club’s basic collective identity is one of misery and fury in the stands coupled with disaster on the pitch. The Emirates’ atmosphere is so toxic that if Jesus Christ had to give a sermon there, he’d end up renouncing God and volunteering for crucifixion.
Dipping into their vast financial reserves cannot solve this problem. It did not change anything when they splurged big bucks on José Reyes, Andrey Arshavin, Theo Walcott, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Gervinho, Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta, Lukas Podolski or Olivier Giroud, so there is no reason to expect blowing megabucks would make a difference now.
Each of Arsenal’s apparent saviours has arrived to much fanfare but, gradually, the depression around the club overwhelmed them. It is virtually impossible to join Arsenal and not become deadwood within two or three years. Simply making the sums being spent bigger and the players arriving more famous will not prevent their inevitable decline.
It is clearly not just the fans that are sick of spending their Saturdays stuck in this vicious circle of defeat and pain. Players like Emmanuel Eboué and Marouane Chamakh were broken by the hate of the baying crowd and their teammates were visibly upset on their behalf. Stars like Mathieu Flamini, Kolo Touré, Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fàbregas, Alex Song and Robin Van Persie walked away from a place they considered home not for money but simply to enjoy football again.
It is no coincidence that when he scored against the Gunners for Manchester City, Adebayor sprinted the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of fans who actively made his professional life miserable. A sizeable portion of Arsenal’s squad must yearn for the freedom to give the fans the kind of abuse they and their colleagues have received.
While most of Arsenal’s less controversial former players insist that they retain a genuine love for the club, none of them has been willing to consummate that bond by enduring the hell that comes with staying there. Van Persie, in particular, has repeatedly spoken of his newfound joie de vivre at Manchester United, saying that he “goes into work every day whistling.”
Sometimes in life it is best to just shut up shop and move on. In the red half of North London, it has reached that point. No financial outlay, tactical reshuffle or change of manager can end this self-fulfilling cycle of sadness. Like a cancer, the melancholy at Arsenal started off small and spread slowly over time, eventually creating terminal decline.
It Arsenal were a patient in a hospital bed, their doctors would give them the bad news and allow them to die. Football clubs do not work that way, but at times like this one almost wishes they did. How sweet and merciful it would be to let the miserable wreck Arsenal have become simply disappear into the ether.