Goonergirl: Making Relationships Work

There is not much I can write about Arsenal Football Club that hasn’t been written already. But I’m going to try anyway. It’s not a matter of choice, becoming a supporter. Many people will call me crazy and dramatic, but most fans and supporters of teams will know just exactly what I mean when I say that it’s the team that chooses you.

People joke about fans “having relationships” with their teams, and they’re not too far off the mark. The only difference is that with a team, you are risking your heart weekly, sometimes even twice a week when there is European football, and there is more of a chance that you’ll get badly hurt, knowing all the while that it’s a life-long bond, and hence the risk of a lifetime of potential pain and heart-break. You may be wondering why we put ourselves through it, day in and day out, even when there is little hope, and even when things look bleak.

It all comes down to the reason why we ended up supporting that team in the first place. How we fell in love with the club and continue to have that bond strengthened every season. Now for many people, this will involve a victory, if not a trophy. But for most others, it will be something far stronger. My entire relationship with Arsenal has been during the Wenger era, and hence a large part of my love for the club has been based on and around his values – the insistence on playing beautiful-to-watch one-touch football in the world’s most physical football league, the elegant balance between youth and experience, and strength and style, the belief placed in nurturing and giving opportunity to young talent, and the very different attitude (at that time especially) that Le Prof  brought along with him, among others.  Ironically, a lot of my current Arsenal-related frustrations stem from the club’s resistance to change in the tiniest ways, leading to our assets turning into liabilities.

All Gooners know very well how it feels to face trophy-less seasons one after the other, without much hope of things changing in the near future. I have to admit that this is the season when I’m most worried about the team. It’s going to be a hard season anyway – with the battle for top 4, as well as the EPL title having more, stronger contenders than in previous years – in addition to worrying about a near non-existent defence and your team just losing it. And neither Arsene Wenger nor the club board-members and executives have done much to soothe these justified fears and worries of all the fans. For the last few seasons, transfer windows haven’t really meant a whole lot of excitement for Arsenal. This summer has been no different, and we’re still a few weeks away from the transfer deadline of August 31. There are many questions – will Samir Nasri and/or Cesc Fabregas still be wearing the red and white this season? With the well-documented tendency for injuries, will the ever-thin squad depth of the Arsenal be enough to sustain them throughout the season? Will we still have a Champions League spot come May 2012? And most importantly – what the hell is going to happen to our ever-leaky defence? Are we going to be able to handle losing yet another defensive player (aka Gael Clichy, who, in spite of all his mistakes, was still a good, experienced player) without any additional bolstering? Are we actually going to sign any more players (hopefully the likes of Mertesacker, Cahill, Jagielka and Mata) before September begins?

To add to all these concerns, Arsenal have been handed one of the toughest starts to the season, where they play twice a week for the entire month of August – the campaign starts away at Newcastle, followed by the home leg against Udinese in the CL qualifier, followed by Liverpool’s visit to the Emirates, followed by the away leg of the Udinese match, and finally to top it off,  a visit to Old Trafford. Fun times ahead …

Arsenal fans have a right to be disgruntled, unhappy and frustrated. The repeated reassurances that “we know what is wrong and we are taking measures to rectify them” are not instilling adequate confidence. My faith is certainly shaken, but all I’d like to say to fellow Gooners, plead even, is this – our team deserves to be supported, no matter what. Yes, we have a right to demand better performances, and a better situation than what has been for the past few seasons. It is only fair, and we are not wrong in wanting our team to win. We have every right to wish for silverware sooner rather than later, and I am not asking for continued patience or mute acceptance of Wenger’s tactics.

But what have we got to gain by constantly criticising them? There has been, and continues to be enough negativity and nay-sayers surrounding the team from all quarters, without us fans adding to the mix. But Wenger’s not a fool. Extremely and exasperatingly stubborn, yes. And neither are the players. They know where they’ve gone wrong, and they will be as eager as us, if not more, to finally break the trophy drought. I’m not suggesting that by us simply supporting the team, we can turn them into champions. This won’t happen without the necessary additions to the squad, and a paradigm shift in the approach. We need the right balance between youth and experience. We can offer solutions and analysis and then be exasperated when things still don’t change. But why not put positive energy into unconditional support for the team, at the same time?

They have put us through enough heart-break, and gut-wrenching moments since 2005, and I don’t blame any fan for not wanting to get their hopes up, or even block themselves from the sheer pain. I am not even foolish enough to suggest that we are good enough to win the League. (To be honest, I’ll be happy enough with another top 4 finish at this stage) But come Saturday, I’ll still be wholeheartedly supporting them because they’re “my team” and I love following them no matter what. Yes, I’m being cliché, and possibly foolishly optimistic, but I still believe in the core of the club I have continued to be in love with since 2002-2003, and that bond is unlikely to ever change. Which is why, in spite of all my worries and doubts, I’m still insanely excited to have my weekends occupied with football again! Come on you Gunners!!!

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