Erik Ian Larsen: Gritty, nervy Arsenal aren’t the Arsenal of old
Written by Erik Ian Larsen on September 30, 2011 20:00
Expectations are a funny thing. I expect my alarm clock to go off at the right time every morning, and so far it hasn’t let me down. I expect my kittens to use the litter box properly without leaving nuggets for me to clean off the floor, and I am proud of the little bastards for usually hitting the mark (or close enough). I expect to have my brain data transported into a robot body before I die, thus granting me eternal robotic life. But, as an often-spoiled Arsenal fan over the last 10+ years, I don’t expect Arsenal to be something they aren’t.
This Arsenal team is not the famed Invincibles. This is a new team, a team of inexperience, youth, mental lapses, and glimmers of massive potential from a last-minute influx of new blood.
This is a team that will constantly struggle to blow opponents away, but still has enough quality to fight and claw for a win against anyone. They’ve proved it against tough opponents already, and I’m really looking forward to the nerviest season I can ever remember as a fan. There will be no breaks this year, no walks in the park, and, frankly, I’m looking forward to it. But Arsenal fans as a whole need to take a step back and adjust their expectations.
We need to stop comparing every little thing this Arsenal team does to a team from the past and learn how to appreciate the often-difficult evolution of the squad.
We know Thierry Henry was great, we know he was one of the greatest strikers in the history of the English Premier League. We know that Dennis Bergkamp was a visionary footballer that we may never see again in Arsenal’s red and white (especially with Cesc Fabregas pulling strings in Barcelona … sigh).
But what’s the point of constantly looking to the past when things aren’t going well? Or even when they are? The situations are different. The quality of the league is different. The structure of the team, front office, and financial requirements are different.
When something bad happens, the cries for a defensive back four “like we had before” never fails to surface. When the Arsenal attack turns into fluffy stuffing yet again, the cries for the ghost of Arsenal past come screaming forward.
But it happens when Arsenal plays well too. Every time we score a beautiful goal, waltzing down the field with precision and speed, I stand up (wait for my shaky stream to catch up), and then celebrate a much-needed goal the way fans all around the world do (the Wenger Dance, anyone?).
I watch the counter-attack—the familiar build-up and execution that true Arsenal fans could draw from memory in beach sand—and I feel myself tugged toward the past. But I watch and listen to the reactions of other Arsenal fans and the football media who constantly point out how that’s the way we’re supposed to play, that’s the “Arsenal way,” and I feel torn.
I’m torn because I often feel the same way, that if we just got back to playing the way we used to, with the right type of players, that we’d be fine again; the toast of the Premier League. But football is a sport that demands evolution. Teams that don’t evolve are left behind (we’ve been learning that first-hand the past few years).
And it’s up to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger to detach themselves from the past, to stop idealizing the way things used to be, and focus on the evolution of the squad, their managerial tactics, and the rest of the league.
I don’t think Arsenal fans should become lackadaisical and stop demanding the highest-quality football this organization can provide. People pay a lot of money and invest a lot of time supporting this club. It’s a lifestyle, a culture, and I think Arsenal fans should be extremely vocal about what they want and what they expect from this club.
The past certainly provides us with a blueprint for success, and this current squad has much to learn from their predecessors (defensively, more than anything), but Arsenal should be an entity that fundamentally exists in the present. Not the past, nor the future. We all need to stop dreaming about the way things used to be, and the manager needs to stop dreaming about the “potential” of his young players, and focus on tangible results. One match at a time.
The win over Olympiakos wasn’t beautiful. You couldn’t show that in a highlight reel of Arsenal’s greatest matches over the last century (or in the last year). But it was a win. A tough win, against Champions League talent, with the second-tier squad giving the starters a breather.
There were moments of frustration, moments of calamity, but Arsenal won that game with two debut goal-scorers. This is the new Arsenal, and while the past is a constant reminder of the club’s prowess and stance in the footballing world, we have to get used to watching a different type of team grit its way to victories.