At the decadent modern-day Arsenal, success and entertainment are seemingly no longer compulsory. The club races further and further away from its identity.
Arsenal have become a game of whack-a-mole. The fans have turned into a group of misery guts forever mulling over the calamity that follows a fitful carnival. The Emirates stadium has transformed into the cosseting presence of perennial mediocrity.
Just a few miles away stands the brand new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Modish, sheeny and quite easily towering over its grand old rusty neighbour. And that really represents the current state of the two north London clubs well.
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One is on an upward trajectory, outstretching the boundaries to moarsve into the territory where someone else once ruled, unrivalled and unchallenged. The other, meanwhile, is in freefall, changing its limits, limiting its challenges, and moving into a zone where someone else once rued, too ordinary to be rivalled, too bad to be challenged.
This is no exaggeration. This is the reality, as told by the 4-1 obliteration in a pretentious final in Baku, as demonstrated by Unai Emery’s apoplexy when the whistle was blown and as heard in the deafening boos for a fugacious Mesut Özil a few nights ago, whose long trudge towards the dugout was symptomatic of his side’s campaign.
While the current miasma that the club is reeking of isn’t solely due to either Özil or Emery, looking at the Gunners through the prism of these two figureheads makes it that bit easier to get a clearer picture of what really is happening.
Özil was brought in for £42.5 million as the face of the new Arsenal. He has, without directly being at fault, ended up being one of the most divisive figures at the club in recent memory. He is among the reasons why the fan base is finding it hard to believe that the board is serious. A brooding, knackered and jaded Özil is indeed the face of the new Arsenal.
Emery is another man who arrived after a well-documented search for a manager. Get yourself to Twitter and you’ll see that he’s even beaten the German to the ‘Most Divisive Figure’ accolade. ‘He doesn’t quite seem like an Arsenal manager,’ they say. Others — and these are increasingly few in number — maintain that he deserves time.
The one common denominator in all of the major decisions taken at the club in recent times is that they all widen the gap between the fans and the club and the club and its identity. Reason being, the higher-ups have either made the wrong move or failed to back up a certain move, like the signing of Özil and the appointment of Emery.
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This constant botching over the years has rendered the club Arsenal-less. They have never been as far away from their identity as they are currently. You’d be lying to yourself if you think otherwise. With no one really taking stock of the levels that the north London giants have fallen to, the soul seems to have been sucked out. Watching them play on a matchday doesn’t have the same sense of escapism anymore.
There’s no fun. There’s no joy. If anything, it’s stressful. Going to the Emirates now is more of a duty that must be observed than that of a journey to a footballing Mecca that it used to be. Supporting Arsenal is a travail.
‘I take pride in the fact that people go home having felt that for 90 minutes today, life is beautiful – and that’s it, basically. That’s why professional football exists,’ Arsene Wenger once said. And his Arsenal did make lives beautiful. His Arsenal made football beautiful. How much of that is true currently? Exactly none of it.
‘At some clubs, success is accidental. At Arsenal, it is compulsory,’ said the very same man. Sadly, for the decadent modern-day iteration, success seems like it is no longer a compulsion. It could very much become accidental very soon. Meanwhile, the feral neighbours continue to make guttural roars.