It’s Christmas time. There’s no need to be afraid. Lol. That Paul Young was full of shit, man. There is, of course, plenty of fear around the place at the end of a year when the world turned gothic, when anxiety stalks the land, and when Micah Richards was able to suggest this week that the problem with Arsenal is that the players are afraid of Arsenal Fan TV.
It’s an interesting idea. Arsenal are the world’s 11th-richest football club, the players elite athletes processed through a brutally hard-nosed system. Arsenal Fan TV, on the other hand, is a YouTube channel staffed by performatively enraged middle-aged men with glazed, haunted eyes saying things like, “I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t” while people walk past doing wanker signs.
Who knows, maybe Richards has a point. There is something profoundly wrong at Arsenal, something that goes beyond the normal roll-call of managers and players, beyond even a decade of low-energy ownership and incompetent appointments.
Is there a more fascinating club in English football right now? The obvious answer to this is yes. Almost every club is more fascinating than a low-throttle semi-giant run by a distant billionaire. But then, context is everything. Watching Tuesday’s zombified 4-1 defeat at home to Manchester City the main feeling was a deep unease at something so weirdly lifeless.
Here they come again, the Arsenal, entombed within their own enormo-drome, manager stalking the fringes like a 19th-century vampire-count re-animated as a Selfridges window mannequin.
This is a ghost ship, a skeleton crew drifting through the doldrums, encircled by YouTube banshees wailing into the night. It’s not even funny or fascinating any more. It’s actually scary.
Sigmund Freud wrote that the root of horror is a confusion over whether an object is alive or dead, and this is what Arsenal are doing to their fans right now, what the howl of Arsenal vlogger-horror is about, the shrieks, the rolling eyes.
What these overwrought people in replica shirts are saying is: the thing I have cared for has become strange. My beloved wonders the earth with empty eyes. The man gripping my wrist with his bony hand has revealed himself to be a semi-zombified ancient mariner. And a vessel of life and love has been transformed into a glass and steel ghost ship just off the Holloway Road.
There is some talk now of sacking Mikel Arteta. Arsenal could end up one spot off the relegation zone if they lose to Chelsea this evening. Perhaps someone else could wring out better results in the short term. But the idea anything would be solved by this is misguided.
Sacking Arteta would be like sacking the doomed, radiation-addled scientists at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Bring on more dying scientists. Bring different dying scientists. Perhaps with slightly thicker lab coats this time.
Arteta may or may not be good enough, but he didn’t make the problems here. The same goes for the “team full of kidders” identified by Jamie Redknapp in midweek. No doubt some of the older players are, in the nicest possible sense, a bunch of pigeon-chested decadents eking out their demotivating A-list contracts.
But this deathly culture seems to linger in the walls, a disembodied spirit. Nearly seven years ago Arsène Wenger’s team lost 6-3, 5-1 and 6-0 in quick succession and we deplored the obvious character flaws of the players – six of whom then went on to win major trophies elsewhere.
In fact pretty much every human part from that time has left. But the culture, well, it’s still, I just can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.
There was once a dream that was Arsenal. Watching the cup game this week I was reminded of going to see the first Champions League proper game at the Emirates Stadium in September 2006, three months after Arsenal had played the final in Paris. This was the peak of High Wengerism. As the ball zipped about under the brilliant new lights, dazzled by the velcro-touch skill-gnomes of full-blown Wengerball, the whole thing felt new and synthetic, but also complete. Whatever its flaws this was a fully-formed world.
In that moment Arsenal were a sporting embodiment of a type of neoliberal Eurozone economics: players signed from eight European countries playing frictionless football in a super-stadium designed to resemble the global finance houses a few miles to the south. To be Arsenal was to be this. Wenger-world had been realised.
Seven months later Stan Kroenke bought his first small stake. Thirteen years on he owns the place. Every trace of Wenger-ism has gone. And death haunts the lighted mansion.
What is Arsenal now? Where is its pulse? Oddly, for a team accused of being too foreign, Arsenal now feels like a football version of the UK: an idea that makes people angry, a fight over history and declining prestige, tethered awkwardly to the past, coasting along on its reserves.
It seems pretty obvious this comes directly from the ownership, from a lack of care, a lack of fine-point attention. Into the post-Wenger vacuum has come a baffling array of fill-ins and odd-bods, corporate wonks from sport-related fields. Most galling of all is the appointment of the owner’s unqualified son to oversee the labyrinthine, highly-specialised business of elite level European club football.
The result has been vagueness, endless arrivals and departures and the attentions of an allegedly super agent. There was a dream that was Arsenal – but you don’t actually need a dream, just a structure, a sharp eye and some kind of plan.
For now we have this, corporate entropy soundtracked by the shrieks and howls of the boggle-eyed superfan, still out there urging this thing to breathe, stand up and walk among us again. Getting rid of Arteta may offer a brief defibrillation. But those howls of horror would be better turned towards a place higher up the chain.
You want to share a story with us? You want to advertise? You need publicity for a product, service, or event? Contact us on WhatsApp – +234 803 3018 881