Schadenfreude — pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.
Arsenfreude — pleasure derived from the misfortune of Arsenal Football Club.
Back on my old blog one of my favorite things to do was revel in the misfortunes of Arsenal. It was fun, easy and most importantly thanks to Arsène Wenger, his puffy coat and a lack of trophies at the Emirates I was never starved for new material. Never forget: low-hanging fruit exists for a reason.
In the last couple years it seems ragging on Arsenal has morphed into a cottage industry, particularly this summer as Wenger and Ivan Gazdis have alternatively fluctuated from spending zero money on transfers to shooting for the moon on guys Luis Suarez to simply missing out on quality players like Luiz Gustavo and Gonzalo Higuian, who chose Wolfsburg and Napoli respectively over a switch to Arsenal. The #HaveArsenalSpentAnyMoneyYet website sums it up, succinctly.
It all came to a head Tuesday and Wednesday this week when the doom-and-gloom British media and typically negative web outlets gave Arsenal as good a chance to beat Fenerbahce in the Champions League qualification playoffs as I would in a race against Usain Bolt. This was based on the combination of a season-opening 3-1 loss at home to Aston Villa, coupled with the club’s dormant summer transfer activity.
Turns out this was the Arsenal version of Chicken Little all over again. The Gunners thrashed the Turkish club 3-0 in Istanbul, upping their mark to 11-0 in Champions League qualifiers. Arsenal are now 6-0 on the road in these games, outscoring opponents 14-1. Bar a complete collapse next week in London, the Gunners will play in the Champions League for the 16th straight season.
If you’ve been paying attention for the last couple years, this result should come as zero surprise. You don’t even have to go that far back in time. At the start of the 2011-12 season, Arsenal was in a similar spot, having drawn to open the EPL season with Newcastle, followed by a 2-0 loss at home to Liverpool. The Gunners still found a way to beat Udinese and reach the Champions League proper, granted they followed that result with the historic 8-2 loss to Manchester United (which I remember since I listened to in the car after losing power from a hurricane). That loss also prompted the semi-panic buys of Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker.
It’s a cycle that never stops. Arsenal are in crisis. Arsenal get a positive result. Arsenal are dead and buried. Arsenal are back in the Champions League. How do people keep falling for this? The process is repeating itself completely, too, with rumors Arsenal are now “ready to spend” with their focus on players like Karim Benzema.
Ultimately, though, what ends up being the point of this never-ending cycle of smearing Wenger and then trusting Wenger by the time the season is over? Will a new manager change the club’s policy and convince owner Stan Kroenke to spend $300 million on Gareth Bale, Edinson Cavani, Thiago Silva and whoever else, which would lead the club back to the top of the table?
And if you’re serious about dumping Wenger, who is his replacement? Antonio Conte? Paul Lambert? Andre Villas-Boas? The ghost of Herbert Chapman? It’s not a long list of candidates and none of those candidates would have the magic wand (aka money) to move the club back up the table without a change of policy in the boardroom.
Realistically, after giving it years of thought, here’s where so much of this Arsenal frustration stems from. Gunners fans, specifically ones in America, are paying the price of being an early adopter of the Premier League and the wonders of European soccer. Let’s go back a decade to circa 2003. If you were looking for a club, which would be better than Arsenal? At the time you have irresistible stars like Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp doing there thing at Highbury. You had, let’s face it, a really cool name in “Arsenal.” You had sharp uniforms and a winning team that was about to complete its “Invincible” season. Hell, it was just fun to say Freddie Ljungberg.
Problem is, like the people who bought the first iPhone, it wasn’t too long until a new model showed up or in this case the billions Roman Abramovich pumped into Chelsea and later all the oil-money used to turn Manchester City from relegation fodder to league winners. If you’re a fan of Arsenal, this has to be beyond frustrating, being elbowed down the table by new-money clubs — saying nothing of Manchester United. Who would have reasonably guessed the club would reach its peak in 2005, the last year it won a major trophy?
At the same time, it’s not all bad for Arsenal. Most soccer fans would trade places. Sure you’re not winning trophies, but you’re still in the Champions League, you’re still creating tons of drama with each and every result. The club is still relevant, important and for better-or-worse, fiscally solvent. Even with all the new players Spurs are bringing in as they anticipate moving Bale to Real Madrid, history has shown it’s still safer money to bet on the Gunners placing fourth rather than Tottenham.
Before wrapping this up, the over-reaction from Arsenal’s loss to Villa is stunning. Yes, a 3-1 result looks bad in print, but remember the first two goals came on (debatable) penalties. The third was off the counter when Arsenal was pressing for an equalizer. They weren’t exactly run off the field and Wednesday Villa nearly got a result at Stamford Bridge vs. Chelsea if not for a blown call on a handball in the box by John Terry. This weekend’s game against Fulham will give a better indication of Arsenal’s truer colors.
There are still reasons for optimism at Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey, especially vs. Fenerbahce, is looking like the player he was touted to become before Ryan Shawcross shattered his leg with a horror-tackle in 2010. Theo Walcott is becoming more influential each match. Nobody seems to rate him, but Olivier Giroud isn’t eight-day old foie gras. One worry nobody seems to talk about is if Santi Carzola’s form holds. He could experience a second-season syndrome a little like David Silva, so Wenger trying to find another playmaker who isn’t Tomas Rosicky might be wise in the next couple days.
Perhaps above all it’s time to swallow hard, readjust priorities and accept the new world Arsenal resides in, a new world where in the end the Arsenal finishes fourth.
Remember, it could always be worse.