A rival fan’s guide on how not to hate Arsenal: Henry, Dreamcast, Mr Pidgen…
Expensive tickets, entitled fans and Martin Keown have made Arsenal a source of constant irritation. But the Gunners are much more loveable than you think.
Arsenal went from terrifying to ridiculous in a relatively short space of time.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment, but somewhere in between the club’s ‘Invincibles’ season and its 8-2 defeat to Manchester United, the North London outfit transitioned from an unpopular group of winners to an unpopular laughing stock. It was weird to watch.
In 2018, however, something changed.
The announcement that Arsène Wenger would be leaving Arsenal after 22 years gave rival fans a funny feeling. Though they may not have admitted it, those wearing the colours of Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United felt a pang of regret: one of the pillars of Premier League football was being taken away.
All of a sudden, those rivals weren’t scared or mocking. They just wanted to pay their respects to an icon.
But as Premier League fans continue to mourn the loss of Wenger, perhaps now is a good time to admit, with a heavy heart, that the Frenchman was actually one of many good things about Arsenal.
The players, the fans, the YouTube channels… Put our biases to one side and we can love it all, can’t we?
1. Arsène Wenger
He may be gone, but Wenger remains part of Arsenal’s identity. They have the same name, for God’s sake.
When he announced his departure in April 2018, Arsenal figures past and present gave heartfelt tributes to the boss. But one of the most poignant testimonials came from a long-time Wenger enemy: former Man United captain Gary Neville.
“My initial reaction to the news of Arsène Wenger leaving is one of warmth towards him,” Neville said. “When someone makes a decision like that you think back to the great battles, teams and players he managed over a long period of time.
“The reality of it is that there won’t be an Arsenal fan who looks back in 10 years time and doesn’t look at it as a magical period under Arsène Wenger. What he has achieved is something that deserves incredible recognition.”
2. Ian Wright and Mr Pigden
You might not agree with everything Ian Wright says, but you can’t help but love him. The former Arsenal striker is a bundle of joy in a game too often plagued by cynicism.
More importantly, his reunion with a former teacher remains the best thing on the internet.
3. When they finally walked it in
Wenger survived until 2018, but he should have walked out of Arsenal on Saturday, October 19, 2013. For it was then that his tactical philosophy was fully and finally realised. Things would never get better.
Cazorla, Wilshere, Cazorla, Giroud, Wilshere, Giroud, Wilshere.
Arsenal may yet score better goals than the one against Norwich, but none will be as fulfilling nor prompt as many neutrals to say: “Oh, so that’s what they’ve been trying to do.”
4. The cruel dismantling of Manuel Almunia
Wenger’s Arsenal gained a reputation for being soft, but they could be hilariously mean when it wanted to. When they re-signed a retired, 41-year-old Jens Lehmann in 2011, for example.
Lehmann, of course, was a club legend but was known to hate Manuel Almunia, Arsenal’s number one at the time. Bringing him back was hardly a confidence boost for the much-maligned Spaniard.
“I have read that Almunia said he deserves to be the number one, but until now he has not won a single important game,” Lehmann said in 2008. “To be sitting on the bench behind somebody who only started to play when he was 30 is not funny.”
Almunia responded in the best way possible. Not by playing well — ha! — but by escalating the feud.
“Every morning, I wake up, I know it is going to be the same,” he said. “I’ve had to put up with it every day since he was out of the team and even before then.
“But I don’t care about him any more. I come into training and I work with Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone. They are better goalkeepers than him anyway.”
The 2010-11 season would be Almunia’s last with the club.
5. Thierry Henry
Imagine a world in which Nicolas Anelka rejected Real Madrid and decided to stay with Arsenal on August 4, 1999.
For starters, this list would probably be a lot shorter, if not downright impossible to write. But more importantly, a certain Thierry Daniel Henry would not have sauntered into Highbury that very same week.
Va va voom
6. Really old defenders
Given that Arsenal are known for their trust in youth — sometimes to a fault — they kept faith in some right old codgers in the early 2000s.
When the club lifted its second Premier League trophy under Wenger, their backline included David Seaman (38), Tony Adams (35), Martin Keown (34) and occasionally Lee Dixon (38).
7. Tomáš Rosický
If there’s one thing more adorable than really old players, it’s permanently injured players wheeled out for one big performance each year. Ledley King and Vincent Kompany — both immensely popular with neutrals — come to mind.
At Arsenal, the role was played by the effortlessly stylish Rosický, who became a cult hero in North London.
The Czech was certainly fun to watch, this rocket at White Hart Lane being one of his best moments:
8. The Sega Dreamcast years
Any old kit can cause nostalgia.
Few jerseys, however, are as frozen in time, as indicative of an incredibly short moment in popular culture, as Arsenal’s brilliant Sega Dreamcast garb.
Does Eddie Nketiah even know what a Dreamcast is? You know he doesn’t.
And they won the bloody Premier League in it.
Arsenal captain Tony Adams and vice-captain Patrick Vieira lift the Premier League Title in 2002.
— Watch Arsenal vs Chelsea Live Stream (@Arsenal__Live) October 12, 2018
On the one hand, the Emirates Stadium is a generic chrome bowl, named after an airline, that charges too much for tickets. On the other, it’s simply one of the best-located stadiums in one of the most interesting cities in the world.
Fulham’s Craven Cottage may have a better-looking location, but the fact that Arsenal were able to relocate so close to Highbury, right in the thick of a great part of London, is something to celebrate.
— Gunnersaurus (@Gunnersaurus) January 11, 2019