Last season Untold was good enough to publish a series of my posts which tried to measure and assess our progress during the campaign. The basic idea was that Win, Draw, Loss and Points data from the previous 10 years had given us a pretty consistent picture of what it had taken teams to win the Premiership and I wanted to plot how Arsenal were doing against those champion-form norms.
I was hopeful that the momentum of Arsenal’s two previous consecutive FA Cup successes and the gradual acquisition of better players would propel us into that kind of form and into the title chase proper.
Obviously my idea of using precedents didn’t work…at least not completely. Last season proved to be totally unlike any of the previous 10 years in that none of the big clubs came close to those WDL or point tally norms they had previously established. Instead, without a precedent in sight, Leicester came from nowhere to win the title superbly. With just three defeats all season, the Foxes won the title with fewer points than any of the previous 10 years’ champions.
So much for relying on precedents.
That is, except in the case of Arsenal; for us, what had happened before, happened again. While everything seemed to change around Arsenal, we remained the same. We were, as per usual, short of the points tally needed, even when the winning points tally needed was lower.
We experienced the same periods of form and loss of form, the same creditable victories against the “bigger” or leading teams but the same defeats or dropped points against ‘lesser” teams, we experienced the return of some familiar defensive collapses and too many games where the team looked less than driven. We finished second for sure but our performances, our numbers, our results didn’t add up to a championship bid.
Some blamed the refs, pointing to evidence studiously collected and analysed week by week, season by season, which indicated that Arsenal was the greatest victim of bad referring decisions. Others, even more frustrated than ever, blamed the Club, the Manager and the players, some of whom who had had very disappointing seasons for sure. This, as we know, was reflected in increasing moments of supporter protest, the appearance of banners and, ultimately, a call for change; not a convincingly supported one, it has to be said, but more evident and persistent perhaps than seasons before.
Last season I found particularly difficult.
After the away defeat at United and the home defeat to Swansea, I just stayed away, not returning to my season-ticket seat until the final day of the season. I wanted to be there on that day specifically to applaud Arteta and Rosicky for their valiant efforts over the years; both great servants. As it turned out, it was a very happy day and occasion. The most joyous of many St. Totteringham Day days.
The thing is, for this coming season, I badly need to find a way to enjoy my club again.
The unexpected carnival atmosphere of last season’s final match provided me with a much needed reconnection with Arsenal joy and, in some cathartic way, tapped into the days of my past when I could embrace the joyous moments without letting the disappointments eat into me.
In the early 80’s for instance, there was real joy to be found in watching Tony Woodcock scoring another well taken goal, even if, at the other end, Tommy Caton was bound to be too slow to stop the equaliser. I lived with the truth of that team. It wasn’t a good enough team to win anything but it could give you some rewarding moments and days.
So what is the truth of our team for 2016/17 and where will I find joy by following it?
Now that the Summer Transfer Market is done and dusted, and our squad is fully in place, I feel I can assess where my hopes seem to sit and also assess what I am looking forward to.
So the first thing I sense is my expectations are a strange combination of being higher and lower, both at the very same time. Higher because I think the squad is better equipped and I think the team will be stronger but lower because I think the other bigger teams have strengthened even more than we have. They also have the added impact of new and the very best trophy-winning, proven managers.
We will do very well indeed, in my view, to seriously compete for the Premiership this season.
So, in effect, compared to last season, my expectations, my hopes are lowered.
And with that, I feel free.
I feel free to enjoy just seeing Santi play, to see his twists and turns, his dinks and dummies.
I feel free to enjoy the vision and cutting passes of Ozil.
I feel free to enjoy the penetrating long passes of Xhaka.
I feel free to enjoy these things for what they are, in their own right, rather than whether they will win us the match.
I feel free to enjoy the developing young talents of Bellerin and Awobi.
I feel free to see how the new team develops, how Mustafa and Perez contribute to the squad.
I feel free to encourage these players, to cheer them on, to help them do their best. And hopefully less quick to moan or groan at a misplaced pass.
The story of the season has a lot to offer even if the title itself looks further away.
But that’s ok. The truth of this team and this season will emerge.
And I am going to try and enjoy this season’s journey wherever it goes and not worry about its destination. That’s my strategy to enjoy being an Arsenal fan and watching its football this season.
As for the longer-term future of the club, beyond this season, in terms of its status, its ambitions, its determination to be winners, its willingness to change and embrace change? That’s a different question. How I will, as a fan, engage in that story, I suspect, may need be different. Because while I accept my job is to support the team on the pitch, I believe it is also my right to encourage the Club itself to be better than it currently is, to push on for greater glory. How to do that, without seeming to be critical or negative, is a tougher question.
But, as for this season, there is much to enjoy. Good luck to Arsene and the boys.
Commemorating today: 6 September 1913 First match at Highbury. Arsenal beat Leicester Fosse 2-1 in what was the first opening day victory since 1906. 20,000 present. George Jobey scored the first Arsenal goal at the ground but was later taken off injured. See also George Jobey, The Day it Began and Season Ticket Prices.
You can find 5000 Arsenal anniversaries arranged day by day on the Arsenal History Society site.