The ordinary era: identity under threat.
This season has been different to others. Normally we start brightly, collapse mid-winter before recovering enough for a top 4 battle and FA cup grab at the end. While I love the FA cup and I’m thankful for being able to see my team regularly lift it at our second home of late, our league form has been a stable if unsatisfactory continuum. A numbingly adequate status quo that has kept Arsene Wenger in his job and fulfilled Kroenke’s hollow financial interests in The Arsenal Football Club PLC.
This season has taken an altogether different path. We’ve not had a season split into extremes, the early highs and mid to late lows broken up like a Shakespearean tragedy. It’s been far less interesting and exciting than that. The shocking start to the season of the Anfield humiliation and losing to one of the worst sides in the league at Stoke followed by a glut of toothless draws since late autumn has seemingly heralded a new era at Arsenal. Where we’ve always been suspect in defence, we have always had our attacking flare and craft to give us hope or at least entertainment. Yet what has been painfully clear this season is that we simply cannot open up teams like we used to.
There are a variety of reasons that could be alluded to; Sanchez and Ozil distracted by contract situation and downing tools (more Sanchez recently), formation of a back 3, defensive howlers and a lack of dynamism and protection from midfield. It seems certain players are guaranteed starts regardless of horrendous form which has embedded complacency. It’s a team who I don’t doubt want to win yet seem indifferent to it.
Even amidst the “banter era” of the noughties and early ‘10s we had a steady garrison of skilful and crafty players despite suffering the annual exit of the likes of Fabregas, RVP and Henry. We had the excitement of free flowing attacking football that at least gave us the temporary illusion that we were competitive at this stage in a season.
With the impending departures of Sanchez and possibly Ozil, two players who signalled the end the “banter era”, we now seem perched in the “ordinary era”. It’s not a return of the “banter era” as it’s not funny anymore. I think even our rival fans are a bit tired of it. It was “banter” 10 years ago because for whatever financial reasons we had gone from the cusp of European domination and the Invincibles to viewing top 4 as a trophy. It was a swift demise in terms of expectation. Now we are simply in danger of fading into the background of mediocrity.
With the nature of how teams have strengthened around us, knowing the status quo won’t change at the club and the nature of the pattern of our numbingly poor and boring attacking displays, we’re in danger of the “ordinary era” actually turning into something.
This is a team crying out for inspiration. It’s a team in danger of losing identity. I hold hope that it’s not lost yet but it’s in grave danger. Amidst the Sanchez transfer saga, an exciting replacement could provide somewhat of a tonic for that within this window. Compound that with nailing down Mr Wilshere, with the prospect of club captaincy in the near future, the “ordinary era” could be stunted before it becomes the Modus Operandi. I can take losing now and again. However, I can’t accept us being soulless and ordinary going forward. I’ll take our defensive frailty for now but I won’t accept a lack of ingenuity, excitement, craft, and spark when we’ve got the ball. Wenger’s favourite phrase is “possession with progression.” There is not a time in his two decade tenure in north London where that philosophical identity has been more under threat.
As we enter a trio of bread and butter games in the run up to spurs away, its key Arsenal reboot. Doing the double over that lot for the first time in years (in our second home) could go a long way to pouring some petrol on the dying out embers and spring boarding us to ending the season positively… with hopefully a trophy or two… and at least rediscovering some form of identity. UTA!
North Londoner living in exile north of the border. During the week I’m a PE teacher.