Michael Graham accepts Arsenal can be infuriating to almost everyone but their shortcomings should not mean that we take them for granted.
I’m going to say something here I never really thought I would and, frankly, I’m not overly sure why I am. Perhaps the frenzy of the craziest transfer window in memory has sent me a little peculiar. It’s possible I’m not getting enough sleep. I might have even banged my head recently and forgotten about it. But anyway, here goes: we don’t give Arsenal enough credit for what they are.
I understand the criticisms that are laid at their feet. Are they ruthless and tough enough to truly dominate the big moments? No. Are they ambitious enough in the transfer market? Absolutely not. Can they be a little boring to watch due to their inability, or unwillingness, to add even the merest hint of variation to their game? Definitely.
I get all that. If I was an Arsenal fan, it’d wind me up easily as much as… well as much as it evidently winds them up and has done for a while now. But here is the thing: sometimes it feels like we are so obsessed with what Arsenal are not that we almost take for granted what they actually are.
I’m in my mid-30s now – ‘late-30s’ depending on who you ask – and Arsenal have been an absolute staple of my love for football. When I look back, they’ve always been in amongst it.
Michael Thomas’ Anfield winner is one of my earliest memories and was probably what opened my eyes to the sheer theatre and drama that football can provide. Actually, even before that I can remember watching them play an absolutely brilliantly enthralling League Cup final against Luton.
I remember Dennis Bergkamp’s sheer artistry, Thierry Henry’s effortless cool and Ian Wright’s shameless swagger. I remember the ‘Invincibles’, Patrick Viera’s brilliantly absorbing rivalry with Roy Keane, and north London derby day is probably the one I look forward to more than any other than my own club’s.
Even when Arsenal have failed or have been caught up in controversy, they have entertained. Which other club could score a late Wembley winner and then drop their hero on his arm, breaking it, minutes later? It was Arsenal on the end of the iconic Paul Gascoigne Wembley moment in 1990. It was Arsenal at the heart of the Paolo Di Canio push. It was Arsenal who got ‘Nayim-ed’. It was Arsenal who somehow let a four-goal lead slip at St James’ Park against Newcastle.
In fact, put any ‘Premier League Years’ on Sky Sports and you’ll see at least one absolutely unforgettable and totally unique Arsenal moment, good or bad.
The point here isn’t to attempt to glorify them for their failures or even dismiss the criticisms that come their way. Every one of them is valid and fair – Arsenal should be winning an awful lot more than they do and there is no getting away from it.
But they are also a cornerstone of our footballing entertainment in this country and have been for generations. They have, and still do, give us so many moments that have shaped the Premier League and its history. It’s a club with incredible history, tradition, and identity.
And, really, is their achievement of staying in the top four of such a competitive league for two decades really afforded the respect it deserves too? Man Utd have dropped out of it recently. Twice. Chelsea dropped out of it last season. Liverpool dropped out of it.
There is a debate to be had about which cycle is preferable: rise, win, and fall or consistently compete but fail to deliver silverware. Maybe your side of that argument will depend upon what you are used to, but neither should be dismissed out of hand and ridiculed.
Arsenal, though, tend to be. Their own supporters’ frustration is understandable and I don’t criticise them for a moment for it. All I’m saying is that English football, collectively, should be a lot prouder of Arsenal than we generally show.