Maximum effort is the minimum I ask for.
(This post was written by The Squid Boy. Yankee Gunner returns tomorrow. I want to thank The Squid Boy for his help this weekend. Please follow him on Twitter @thesquidboylike.)
“If you eat caviar every day then it is difficult to return to sausages” – Arsene Wenger, November 1998
There was a moment during the recent Liverpool match at The Emirates that reminded me of the above quote. I can’t remember when it was, I can’t remember exactly what happened. All I can remember is that it was a rare positive piece of play that resulted in us winning a corner. Now the winning of a corner is always met with encouraging fan support. But this time it was different. I looked around me in the North Bank and saw raucous cheers and the pumping of fists; reactions almost akin to us scoring a goal. Had we Gooners finally accepted that sausages were the order of the day and maybe the season?
It has been a strange beginning to the campaign for the fans in the stands. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the performances on the pitch have been inversely correlated with the reaction of the faithful in the stadium, especially in domestic games.
For instance, our two worst performances – the aforementioned Liverpool game and the Mauling in Manchester – brought out some of the better qualities in our supporters. The former saw us get behind wantaway midfielder Samir Nasri while the latter ended in the away fans being given a refund on their ticket by the Club, such was the unwavering nature of their support despite enduring an 8-2 hammering.
And interestingly enough, it was our most battling performance at Newcastle that saw the now notorious “spend some f*cking money” chant rear its ugly head. I’ve mentioned before that I have no issue with the chant itself and it is fair to say those in charge needed a kick up the backside as they allowed the season to begin with the squad in a state of disarray. But I found the timing of the chant a bit off – when we’re in injury time and down to 10 men with our backs against the wall, the players need our support rather than barbs.
In the end we did indeed spend some money. This past week has season a flurry of seasoned pros arrive at the Club to lend experience and nous to young-ish squad.
But will that be enough to compete for first place, as we all dearly hope so?
The answer to that question lies less in introspection and more in looking at our rivals, most notably the two Manchester outfits. The Champions, United, built on their title-winning exploits by adding proven Premiership class and a sprinkling of young talent. And importantly, they did it early to allow the newbies to settle in. We know first-hand how strong they already look.
Then we have their noisy neighbours, City. The pretenders to throne if you will, who have spent an insane amount of money on legitimate world-class players…and Gael Clichy. They have no limits and when it comes to flashing the cash, for the world really is their oyster now they can offer the carrot that is Champions League football. They finally seem to have the perfect blend of silk and steel, as Spurs can attest to.
I am loathe to aim for anything less than top spot. Even in my personal life, when I sit an exam I aim for 100%. Not because it’s likely to occur but because when you shoot for the moon, even if you fall short you will still land in the stars. In a way this could be a description of Arsenal last season. For so long we were in a two-horse race for the title that when the collapse came, we still didn’t fall out of the Champions League places.
However, this season I feel a sense of realism may be more beneficial for us fans. Especially after the summer we’ve had and especially because what happens is largely out of our control now that the transfer window is shut. The truth is has moved from the negotiating table back on to the pitch.
Even when you remove the spending of our rivals from the equation, our own confidence has taken a battering in recent times. And that’s not just with regards to the summer where we lost our skipper and one of the best players in the league to a rival. Our form since that fateful February day at Wembley has been plain awful. And stretching back even further, we’ve fallen away during the title run-in for three out of the last four campaigns. It’s fair to say this accumulation of disappointments has taken its toll on the morale of the fanbase.
But I don’t think it’s just bad results that have got us down. They are part and parcel of football and, to an extent, forgivable. Instead there has been a nagging feeling that some of the players simply don’t care as much as the fans. I could reel off a list of games where it felt like they were trudging around half-heartedly, not fighting tooth-and-nail for the win and fatally presuming that talent alone would see us victorious. And that truly is unforgivable.
That sense of complacency *seems* to have gone. This new-look squad may lack in superstar names but is packed with hard workers. Maybe the Club finally recognises that hard work is equally as important as sheer talent. Those that have exited could well have lost faith in their team-mates or the manager, but those who remain are 100% committed to the cause. No more passengers, just players willing to fight for the cannon on their chest.
And this complacency may well have translated to a section of supporters. Ever since our last trophy, some have harboured a sense of entitlement with regards to silverware. While this has diminished with each passing trophyless year, the recent rise in ticket prices gives justification to the anger as to why the team’s level is not rising accordingly.
But just as the complacency in the team has hopefully gone, so may have the sense of entitlement among the fans. At least that’s what I felt that afternoon at The Emirates when Liverpool overcame us. Immediately after the final whistle blew there was a cacophony of boos. But what is less widely-reported is that MANY stayed behind afterwards to show our appreciation for the players’ effort that day as a chant of “We love you Arsenal” rang around the stadium from the circa 25,000 that remained.
So while the players should of course strive to be the best, maybe us fans would be better served in lowering our expectations such that any tangible success (i.e. trophies) is a bonus.
Before you accuse me of accepting “failure”, I’d like to point out that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive – just because I’d be content with third place and qualifying from our CL group and maybe one of the domestic cups doesn’t mean I don’t want us to win the Quadruple. I simply don’t anticipate it with the players at our disposal. Nor does it mean I have no belief in Arsene of the squad, for I think we have assembled a very good stable of players with more depth than last year, albeit a weaker first XI.
But for my own sanity and after assessing the bigger picture – our start to the season, the state of our squad compared to our rivals’ – I’m not going to vest too much stock in the players delivering minor miracles. I’m simply going to try and support them as best I can and have faith that they will put in maximum effort. And given the talent at our disposal, a healthy dose of hard work should see results come naturally.
Again referring back to that Liverpool game, I sense many are of the same opinion. Who knows, if we simply support the players’ efforts instead of burdening them with unrealistic expectations, maybe they can remove the shackles of fear that gripped them during the second-half of last season and achieve that minor miracle? Maybe the 12th man can help the whole exceed the sum of our parts?
Squid Boy – http://twitter.com/TheSquidBoyLike