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Arsenal: just what do we expect?

Ever since Mr Wenger made his announcement that he would depart Arsenal in the summer of 2018, I have occasionally found myself wondering what those people who endlessly called for his departure since sometime around 2006, actually expected once he had gone.

I mention 2006 as that is when I recall the complaints starting; it was the first season since 1996/7 (when Mr Wenger arrived) that the club had not finished in the top three. There clearly were people who found fourth unacceptable – and more who, even if they did not find fourth unacceptable for one season, then certainly found several years of coming 4th, beyond the pale.

Indeed in the ensuing eight years of consecutive third and fourth place finishes in the league, no cup finals, and, in the three years a series of exits from the Champions League in the round of 16, there were ever more mutterings. Time, it was said, for Mr Wenger to go.

In fact what we also had among some fans were two interesting shifts of perception. First we had the arrival of the “Fourth is not a trophy” slogan, endlessly repeated, and the announcement that the FA Cup was of no consequence either.

What Arsenal fans expected, they said, and in fact what Arsenal fans DESERVED was more than this. We were the Arsenal. Second best was not on the agenda. Fourth was not a trophy.

It was an interesting vision, given that just eleven years before, just one year before Mr Wenger arrived, Arsenal finished 12th in the league and runners-up in the Cup Winners Cup. The latter was indeed quite an achievement at the time, although subsequently forgotten. For if winning the FA Cup was not of importance, then the CWC wasn’t either.

The fact is that the Wenger glory years of 1998 to 2005 were beyond anything any supporter could have imagined at the time. Yes we had had the Graham glory years: two championships, the Cup Double, and the Cup Winners Cup in a six year spell, and that was also unlike anything those at the ground had ever seen before, but it had all gone wrong with George Graham’s misdeeds.

But then, after a brief interlude of one season of Rioch and a last day scramble to get into the second tier of European competition, we had Wenger, and almost from the off the arrival of the most astonishing of players.

I still recall today sitting in the stand and seeing Vieira come on as a substitute for his first match and saying to my mate, “look at this player – he’s taken total control of that part of the midfield – no one is getting past him. Who is he???”

What made Vieira’s arrival so great was that at that moment, we didn’t expect too much. The last season under Graham had been a disaster, and the Cup Double year had been one of League tedium with the club equalling its lowest ever goals total (40) in a 42 game first division season. The Rioch season ended with a bit of excitement getting into the Uefa Cup, but that was just because it was all last moment. We weren’t going anywhere much, and we knew it.

But the problem that we all faced after 2005 when money started being put aside to pay for the stadium was that we felt that it was our right to have trophies. We’d had them under Graham – and at first under Wenger.

People expected it to continue, and when it stopped, supporters demanded more. If Wenger couldn’t deliver, then bring in someone who could.

Curiously this state of affairs was an exact replica of Arsenal in the 30s. In the fifth year of Chapman’s reign he won Arsenal its first ever trophy, the FA Cup in 1930.

Trophies followed, but no sooner had the success been established than the fans were complaining. If Arsenal didn’t win a trophy every year it was not good enough. In 1936/7, after three league titles and one FA Cup win in four successive seasons, Arsenal won nothing. And the fans booed, and crowds went down. Success was now the new norm and anything short of winning trophies was not acceptable. Just eight years before Arsenal were in the position of never ever having won any major trophy in 39 years of League football. Now a failure to win something every season was a disaster.

Of course in this regard, those supporters of extremely short term memory span were mightily aided by journalists who quickly saw a new way to gain readership by running the “Arsenal in decline” and “Arsenal in chaos” articles. Easy journalism, no research, no interviews, just simple statements and predictions of further collapse.

Thus being critical of Arsenal, whether it is by journalists or Arsenal fans seems to be a fundamental part of the being that is “Arsenal”. Arsenal historian Jon Spurling recounts the story that Peter Goring was abused after the Sunderland defeat in 1953 by a fan who said that he’d seen the Arsenal team of the 1930s and the current team wasn’t fit to lick their boots. Peter commented on this as saying, “I wasn’t the only player to be confronted in such a way…some of those fans were very hard to please…”

Spurling also says that on one occasion, “One of Goring’s team mates snapped and told the Daily Mail journalist… that he was “ashamed of the crowd and considered them to most unsporting collection in the country.”

Partially as a result of this, the team broke up and the dark ages of the club began – there were no more trophies until 1969. As the club tried to buy new players they found it increasingly hard, as players simply didn’t want to play for Arsenal.

So to answer the question, what do Arsenal fans expect? The answer is constant and total success. Anything less will not do.

The media of course love this. In the opening weeks of Mr Emery’s tenure as manager every single Arsenal first team player was attacked in the media as being below standard and needing to be sold if the new manager was going to make any difference. His failure to sell them all was then paraded as proof positive of the fact that he was himself another failure.

Of course, not everyone buys into this myth of constant success of course. The “He’s won more that you” chant in favour of Arsene Wenger, made the point that Mr Wenger in 22 years had won more league titles than Tottenham in its entire history. And indeed he’s won more Premier League titles than Liverpool and the same number as Manchester City which isn’t too bad an achievement.

But no, that’s not enough. Cups won’t be enough. Cup Doubles won’t be enough. And even if Arsenal do win the League again that won’t be enough, because then the call will be that Arsenal can only be considered real champions if they retain the trophy.

And on and on.

What do Arsenal fans expect? The answer is simple: More. And after that, more still. And of course no club can do that forever. What many Arsenal fans want is something they can never, ever, have.

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