Graft that contains joy rarely feels like a task at all. Watching Arsenal the last few years, moments of everlasting craftsmanship have been a mainstay, albeit reduced in frequency. That said, bubbling beneath the surface, ready to catastrophically erupt at any given moment was an inexorable toxicity. It plagued the fans, corrupted the players, and in-spite of the grace Le Professeur conducted himself with, it clearly drained him. The joy was zapped out of watching the Gunners. What once was the highlight of the weekend, seeing 11 gifted artists work their magic in-front of awe-inspired onlookers, eroded into pain, hurt and anguish. The whistle that signalled the conclusion of a match was greeted with deafening boos, shocking abuse, and players physically and psychologically drained.
This toxicity ravaged the club from top to bottom, and it was only the news of Wenger’s departure that brought temporary alleviation from the virus infecting the Emirates. The curtains closed on the Arsene Era, leaving behind an indelible mark of grace, beauty and guile. As the curtains closed, ambiguity replaced toxicity, as fans anxiously awaited who would pioneer the next chapter in the story of Arsenal Football Club. Of all names to roll off the tongues of Gunners fans far and wide, Unai Emery rarely got a mention. Yet, before we knew it, there he was, the captain of the Arsenal ship, determined to steer the Gunners back on course.
So used to toxicity were the Gunners fans, the appointment was meant with reluctance, some fans even showing a willingness to protest his appointment. Even pundits such as Gary Neville bemoaned what he saw as a “mess”. Arsenal had become synonymous with negativity. Fast forward two months, and Ozil, Aubameyang and Mustafi are pictured on the Arsenal bench dancing, with the Gunners running rampant against PSG (albeit in essence a PSG youth team). The vibe around the club is electric, with players praising Emery’s work ethic, tactical nous, and the entire shift in training ideals from the era that preceded the Spanish manager.
It almost seems strange to have such positivity surrounding Arsenal. Transfers have been done early, players have cut their holiday breaks short, so mesmerised by the training methods of Unai Emery, and you’ll have a hard time finding an article bashing the Gunners. Even the captaincy, an issue usually used to ridicule the inadequacies of Arsenal is now a talking point centred around positivity. The discussion has transitioned towards the copious options of who can wear the famous armband of the Gunners.
To put this into perspective, Mesut Özil, an individual so widely ridiculed and wrongly targeted, now finds himself a serious candidate for the captaincy, with fans on-board with such an idea. Were such a plan proposed in the Wenger Era, the backlash would have been monumental, and the negative atmosphere would inevitability filtered onto the pitch, resulting in dire consequences for everyone connected to the famous red and white jersey.
No one truly knows what the impending season will entail. Countless analytic insights as to the shortcomings of the ‘same old Arsenal’ will no doubt surface from media outlets following the first defeat the Gunners encounter. However, there is a distinctly different feel as to how such criticism will be received. There is a unity and strength in the squad, a cohesion that has seemingly been previously absent. Hector Bellerin’s issuing of support for Özil in his fight against the DFB, or even the comments under Aaron Ramsey’s instagram posts from Lacazette regarding his as ‘captain’ highlight a togetherness we’ve not seen at the Emirates for a long, long time.
Perhaps Arsenal won’t make significant progress, and perhaps we won’t trail-blaze through the season as we optimistically hope for. Regardless, one defeat won’t divide the Gunners this season, one defeat won’t trigger demand for a coup of the structures dictating Arsenal’s growth. This season will be different, united the Gunners will stand, but if we fall? We’ll fall united, and you can bet that the climb back up will have the force of millions, far and wide, supporting it.
My twitter: @Jakeal_