What is it like to lose something that you value the most? How does it feel to have your most prized possession prised away from you? What would you not give to be able to not part with the one thing that you and only you possess and that is the envy of everyone else? These are questions that haunt, torment, and gnaw at the hearts of supporters of Arsenal Football Club every year come the August transfer window. First Henry, then Fabregas-Nasri last year and now RVP, the month of August is the stuff of nightmares for Gooners. And as if the departures of the best players, or Club Captains, or in some cases, both, year after year, were not cause enough for misery, Arsenal fans, who have watched with horror the utterly dehumanizing and thoroughly demoralizing 8-2 defeat against United last season, will vouch that they still sometimes get up in the middle of the night, convinced that the terrorizing apparition of Wayne Rooney (no offence Roon, but Lord knows you look hideous after the stupid hair-job!) visited their bedrooms and ripped apart their posters of the Invincibles Team. Add to this Arsenal’s trophy drought, which, to stretch it, stretches back to footballing antiquity. And now you would surely be forgiven to ask, why, for the life of me, have I continued to devote myself to the hopeless cause of supporting the Gunners?
Hard pressed as I may be to put into words, the reason, and indeed the justification, for my obsession, I am still going to try and express why Arsenal F.C. continues to be the object of undying, unrelenting and undiluted devotion for millions across the world. Nick Hornby’s delightfully funny account of his life as an Arsenal fan, ‘Fever Pitch’, in which he laments the debilitating heights that his manic obsession with Arsenal often reaches as well as recounts with joy the unbridled ecstasy of witnessing Arsenal’s numerous Cup and League wins of the ‘70s and the ‘80s, deserves mentioning here. In this book, Hornby, veering well off Freudian territory, thankfully, I might add, tries to take stock of his obsession from a layperson’s point of view. He comes to the conclusion that obsessed fans have a tendency to form inextricable bonds with football clubs by reason of the clubs acting as a measure of constancy in their often tumultuous lives. Notwithstanding psychological evaluations that may find this explanation to be an exercise in the absurd, it does seem plausible to me that one can indeed forge a relationship that is not only extremely deep but also highly personal with an entity as inanimate a football club, depending on the kind of role that the club plays in one’s life over the course of years.
This, however, only provides a general explanation for someone’s obsession with a particular football club and does not answer the larger question, “Why Arsenal?”. With the myriad disappointments and humiliations of the past few seasons still fresh in Gooner minds, I will be the first to admit that rooting for the Gunners is no easy task. In fact, supporting Arsenal often assumes the character of an utterly frustrating exercise. Heart-breaking defeats in the Champions League Final ’06 and the Carling Cup finals ’07 and ’11 are testimonies to this. So, again, why Arsenal? The answer to this is not simple, or even logical. What is true for certain, however, and what every Gooner worth his salt will tell you, is that Arsenal, with all its faults, is capable of coming up with performances, ever so often, that are so, for the lack of a better word, beautiful, that you cannot help but get addicted to the club in Red and White. I know that I might be sounding stupid here to anyone who is not an Arsenal supporter, but let me tell you this: most people, casual fans and veteran pundits alike, fail to understand the fact that the greatest moments in the lives of us Gooners are not occasions like the ’02 Double win or even the ’04 Invincible run; it is memories like that of Henry going down on his knees and kissing the turf after completing his hat-trick on the final day at Highbury, or that of an eighteen-year old Cesc Fabregas ruling the midfield against a fierce Juventus side in the 2005-06 Champions League Quarterfinal, or more recently, that of arguably the weakest Arsenal side under Wenger defeating teams like Chelsea and Tottenham, defying firepower, money and logic, on their way to a miraculous third place after their most horrendous start to a footballing season, that remain etched forever in our minds.
What ties all these performances together, perhaps, is a quality of defiance, an eagerness on the part of Arsene Wenger to obstinately stick to certain principles that he believes (foolishly so, some argue) are indispensable to playing football. Wenger is a purist. A staunch believer in the one-touch possession play that has become the hallmark of Arsenal teams under Wenger. It’s the fluidity, the balletic grace and the rhythmic movement that Monsieur Wenger has imbued in the Arsenal sides that is his greatest accomplishment and the defining characteristic of Arsenal, according to me. The significance of this dawns on you only when you consider the fact that Arsenal before Wenger was a dour, ultra-defensive side that specialized in long-ball play ala Bolton or Stoke City. To have been able to transform a side like that into a unit that is revered by football aesthetes is nothing short of wondrous.
Another principle of Arsene, which has drawn praise and consternation in equal measure, is his policy of always balancing the books, come what may. He has a Master’s degree in economics from the University of Strasbourg, for Christ’s sake! On a serious note though, one cannot help but respect the man for standing up for economic values and the importance of moderation in this age of billionaire owners, astronomical transfer deals and the consequent spiralling mountains of debt. While there are some who argue that this almost old-fashioned financial temperance would result in the North Londoners being left trailing behind their wealthier counterparts by a long way, there are yet others who believe that FIFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations which kick in from this season are nothing but a resounding affirmation of the views that Arsene has held all along.
These measures may or may not usher in a new dawn at Arsenal. Even if they do result in Arsenal ending its long trophy drought this season, or the season after this, the focus will then shift to winning the Champions League or a Double or a Treble or a Quadruple, whatever. The fact, quite simply, remains that, these accomplishments, while absolutely vital for the success of Arsenal, do not matter the most when it comes to the reason behind someone supporting the Gunners. The trophy itch can stretch on forever for all we Gooners care.