I bet you’re sitting there thinking, “Beat City, Southampton have something to play for, so do Newcastle…and Tottenham are bottlers. This second place is on…”
Only Arsenal, in arguably one of the worst seasons of Arsène’s reign, could snatch second place in a finish which would seen as a step forward, an improvement year-on-year by most clubs but be unable to claim that. Second whilst walking backwards for everything including christmas.
But that’s the reality. Chelsea’s supporters are keen for their team to beat Tottenham tonight and hand Leicester the title. That’s a by-product of what some cheerfully will salvage some of their season if they stop Tottenham’s title challenge permanently. I suspect there’s an element of the same schadenfreude in us as well, except we’d have the tangible finishing above them in the league once again.
I bet you’d print off an A4 sheet at The Emirates next season to celebrate that, wouldn’t you…?
Be prepared for it to bite you on the backside though. This week is pivotal for Arsenal next season. City face an uphill task in the Bernabeu but one away goal could do it whilst no-one would bet against Liverpool overcoming their single goal deficit. Both winning the Champions and Europa Leagues with City then dropping out of the top four following as a result of an Arsenal victory at the Etihad next weekend?
Fortunately, victory next weekend will all but seal a minimum of third place so you don’t have to fret about missing out on the Champions League although quite why anyone is bothered by it is beyond me. The club, yes, I understand the financial side of it and despite Arsène’s recent protestations to the contrary, the board wouldn’t be happy missing out on that money.
But there aren’t any sporting reasons to believe Arsenal’s participation is an imperative. The argument that we will miss out on the best signings falls flat on its face because we don’t sign them anyway. By his own admission, Petr Cech’s priority last summer was remaining in and around London for his family, as opposed to being in the Champions League.
And the lure of the competition isn’t that great with Arsenal’s record of knockout round exits being public knowledge. How does that enticement work: come to us and we’ll get you to the knockout stages of the Champions League?
There’s a hollow PR motive behind the public pronouncements from club and players about the importance of the competition in that sense. If it’s that important, either (a) the player has never played in it and wants to try, or (b) the player is looking for a club in the competition to meet his wage demands.
I can understand wanting to finish in the top four to put one over Tottenham but as a gateway to mediocrity in Europe, it’s a poor benchmark to want the club to reach. Let’s not forget the sporting reasons cited are underpinned by finances; that’s why it’s one of Arsène’s KPI’s and that’s fine, every manager has them and they are set by his boss. Yeah, OK, as if Arsène has one.
It’s part of the changing face of football. Even in my lifetime, the modern game is unrecognisable from my youth and those who have more miles on the clock have witnessed greater changes. Not all is for the better, that’s the same for anything in life. Some of the changes are staggering in terms of the athleticism and technique of players, the finances and the stadia.
The latter is always a tough one because of the emotional attachments to the bricks and mortar of a previous home but in terms of facilities, The Emirates, for example, is light years ahead of Highbury. A different matter when you talk about fondness and ‘home’ generally. It may never be, that’s a risk you take when clubs move.
Yet among all this is the one constant: the supporters. If you think that the discontent is anything new, think again. We – supporters of every club – have been at it for more than a century. Not years, not decades but over a century. I think it must have been worse at the turn of the last century or even before the 1960s with clubs being the focal point of a community in which the owners invariably lived and/or worked.
Imagine being at work knowing that Saturday’s results had given those on the factory floor another reason to hate you, aside from the pitiful wages you paid. Now, Stan sits in his ivory tower sheltered from all the bad things whilst Arsène had his Sally Field moment on Saturday although there seems to be more a case of people don’t want to say they want change, it’s not the British way of doing things, old boy; do the right thing and move on quietly, there’s a good chap.
Nonetheless, it’s always amusing to see journalists who crave sycophancy on social media chastising others for being ego-driven, without any recognition of the irony.
The fundamental shift in football, even though it had been coming for some time, is the positioning of supporters as customers. Attitudes among the fanbase have mirrored that; a new generation of supporter willing to tell others that if they don’t like it, they should find another club to support.
Perhaps the new generation can do that, maybe that is the defining mentality of the Premier League era: the diminishment of passion for a club. A night at the opera or at The Emirates? As long as there is grassroots football, the game will survive. At the highest level, it will dance off into the sunset and become the same as wrestling. Once proud, reduced to theatrics and pyrotechnics.
It gets rid of the ‘awkward brigade’, I suppose. No-one will question the outcomes or have any desire because it’s all rigged anyway, just sit back, relax and enjoy. No need to question ambition because there is none.
Of course, until it reaches that point, the awkward brigade won’t go away. The supporters groups who challenge the club’s attitudes and actions will still do so, individuals who don’t like the way it is run on and off the pitch will continue to ask the same questions and all the while, those who don’t want to, will turn up and support no matter what. It’s how football has been for years, it’s how it will be until the dystopian future arrives.
And it’s how it should be.
And for Tottenham, there’s always next year…