Action Reaction

Arsenal fans: I know how you feel. I do. Seriously. We all do. We all know that gut-souring, tongue-drying, psyche-dimming sensation when something we care a lot about–a team whose status and reputation genuinely matter–gets absolutely pooped on. I watched the game on Sunday, and I knew it 10 minutes in. Something was wrong. Everything was out of control. I don’t say that lightly. It’s the same emotion you get an instant before you bust your ass on a frozen sidewalk; it hits you when you realize that check is gonna bounce regardless of what you do; you feel it when you see the car moving backwards from your porch and you know you forgot to leave the parking break on. Which is worse, O87 reader: that sensation as a player/coach, or that sensation as a fan? It seems fairly even to me.

Watching Arsene Wenger sitting there in the first half, visibly distressed, wearing a face that screamed “Hold on, just…hold on…”, I felt genuinely sorry for the man. As the leader and focal point of the team, blame was sure to be squared on him like the intense white hot point a magnifying glass makes when it channels the sun. Was it his fault, I asked myself, if the board made all the decisions on personnel, if debilitating injuries and inevitable player sales depleted his squad like a dusty Georgian cornfield ploughed 200 times too many? Was he in the Arsenal driver’s seat anymore, or was he relegated to one of those backwards-facing station-wagon trunk seats I used to love so much as kid? After years and years of service, after a season where he didn’t lose a game, after bringing in several top quality players, would Arsenal fans turn their collective derriere on him, just like that? After the game, Fergie reportedly said that United could have scored more, but chose not to run up the score. What has become of Arsene now that he is viewed with pity by once-peer legendary coaches?

Despondency and despair manifested through anger was the main theme I saw visible in the Arsenal squad. The particular rift I am thinking of occurred between Walcott and Jenkinson about 30 minutes into the match, once United had already scored a few easy goals. Walcott screamed at Jenkinson pointing repeatedly backwards, as if to say, don’t you know you’re a fullback? Don’t you know you’re supposed to make tackles and cover this side of the flank? What kind of alternative universe has taken hold at the Emirates when a player consistently belittled for his lack of footballing intelligence chides another player, not even his position, and shows him how to do an appropriate job? I felt sorry for them. The Arsenal players go home with their big paychecks to their very attractive WAGs, but they’re still affected by it. They have to be. No one likes being talked about behind their back. And yet, in real time, here were hundreds of thousands of people slagging off this guy, then that guy. No one was immune. It’s amazing how quickly the crests created by team unity, skilled play, and winning can be supplanted by the troughs of scabied malcontent and finger-pointing.

The reaction among Arsenal fans was bi-polar: some chose to take to the interwaves, crying foul, exhaling anger, distrust, drunken nostalgia and other piddle; others, the smart ones, chose silence, a dramatic retreating into oneself, choosing to believe that soccer, Twitter, your footy-loving-friends, all of them didn’t exist. Like wearing a hood as a child the first time you get your head shaved, the shame is overpowering. You question your love of soccer, your love of your team. You look up at all the paraphernalia speckling the walls and wonder if it wasn’t all in vain. The same footy-loving-friends send you little notes, sarcastic, cynical, genuinely apologetic, but you ignore them, pretend you haven’t seen them. You wake up the next morning and feel better, and the game slowly retreats into that dark little corner of the mind where it joins that grade school test you absolutely flunked and memories of the first goldfish your parents sent to goldfish heaven. But you never forget it, ever. You join the ranks of the bitterly disappointed, ready and able to brandish the match like an ugly facial scar once another fan tries to moan and complain. “Wow, well we had our ass handed to us last night.” “You have no idea what that’s like, so don’t even try to compare it.”

How do I know all this? Cause I’m right there with you in the ranks of the bitterly disappointed. I’m an Aston Villa fan[1].

[1] We were creamed twice in the last two seasons, once by Chelsea (6-1), once by Newcastle (7-0). Newcastle! The same team we ensured was relegated two seasons before!!

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