85 minutes. That’s how long it took for Arsene Wenger to emerge from the dugout during Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Brighton.
The Gunners boss watched his side hurtle to a fourth consecutive defeat in a game that, save for a rustle of pressure in the second half, they never looked like winning. For most of the match, he’d sat ashen-faced as the hosts pummeled his jaded, disinterested players.
As the final whistle blew and defeat was confirmed, familiar scenes unfolded. Boos rolled down from the stands, whilst the intellectual wasteland of social media spluttered and guffawed.
Arsenal are an omnishambles: the Premier League’s longest running joke had delivered the laughs once more.
Their fans, meanwhile, continue to be the most spoiled in the country. A bunch of entitled consumers wetting their frothy lattés with crocodile tears.
That is the consensus view but it is also lazy and myopic.
Over the past decade, Arsenal fans have watched their club ossify from the inside out. Since the halcyon days of 2004, it has listed without strategic direction, as ballooning stadium costs restricted investment in the team just as the financial reality of the Premier League changed forever.
A prolonged decline finally reached rock bottom in 2018. No team in the Premier League has lost as many games this calendar year, whilst only five have lost more away from home this season. Sunday’s defeat was the worst yet, 90 minutes of aimless tactics and bashful, skulking players.
Get used to it
“Get used it it, Arsenal fans”, say the pundits basking in Schaudenfraude. This, they say, is what life as a football fan is really like.
That might be true but that doesn’t mean it should be.
For decades, Arsenal have been a model of pristine management. Financially prudent, immune to the panic buying and profligacy seen throughout the rest of English football. In a sea of short-termism and recklessness, they used to be a bastion.
It might be the ‘norm’ for fans to suffer under gormless leadership elsewhere but that doesn’t make it ‘normal’, especially not for a club of Arsenal’s stature. Their fans are perfectly entitled to be in uproar when they see the team follow a path forged by tens of feckless clubs before them.
Not one of Arsenal's directors could be seen in the stands for Sunday’s game, an act symbolic of the cowardly administration that pervades this stricken organisation.
Arsenal fans’ pain is made all the worse because it is being caused, at least in part, by the very man who set their expectations so high in the first place.
True Gunners know the value of Wenger’s triumphs at the club. They know that, regardless of the manner in which he eventually leaves, he will go down as the greatest coach in the team’s history. That is incontrovertible.
They also know, however, that history counts for nothing compared to the next game. They know that every negative result makes it harder for Wenger to stay; that every defeat draws him further away from supporters who, in many cases, grew up idolising him.
They want him to stop the pain, and not just for their own sake. The club he loves, and his own legacy, is suffering with every abject performance.
Entitled to entitlement
Admittedly, some Arsenal fans give their club a bad name.
Certain voices and outlets have monetised the clubs’ misery, and only the most naïve of observers would assume that these hucksters don’t rub their hands in glee with every loss. If the team bleeds, it will always lead.
The majority of Gunners fans are far more prosaic about the current situation, however. They can see their club spiralling out of control and are justifiably voicing their defiance and concern.
If that makes them entitled, then so be it.
Do you think Arsenal fans are entitled? Let us know below the line.