Friday, April 26, 2013


Giuard Of Honour Debate Shows How Far Arsenal Have Fallen

My column in Jakarta Globe 26/4

Manchester United have claimed their record 20th title with Dutch striker Robin Van Persie netting a first half hat trick and while United’s legions of fans around the world have been celebrating others have been more sanguine.

Take Arsenal fans for example. For a decade they were United’s sole sparring partner. They had a duopoly on the trophies that counted, they were equals. Not anymore. Now Arsenal are a spent force, seemingly incapable of mounting any kind of title bid of their own when United’s team is arguably less of a force than their turn of the century pomp but are still able to snatch trophies out of the ether with monotony.
Now Arsenal are just one of a handful of clubs who are neither good enough to challenge for the title and too good for mid table oblivion.

It is a role the club have brought upon themselves. The move to the Emirates, a soulless bowl sandwiched between a couple of railway lines, was meant to be the springboard to even greater success, an opportunity to build upon that great team built around the dashing Henry, Pires and Veiria and keep challenging for England and Europe’s top honours.

Except of course that hasn’t happened. Fans have become increasingly disillusioned at selling the crown jewels, the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie, to be replaced by Barbie & Ken jewelry.

Last pre season it was the turn of Van Persie to leave with Manchester United, smarting from that final day drama that saw Manchester City snatch the Premier League thanks to Sergio Aguero’s last minute winner over Queens’ Park Rangers.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson swore never again and determined to do something about it. He wanted the best and for sure the best last season was Van Persie. Putting the needs of his club ahead of his one-time rivalry with Arsene Wenger, Ferguson picked up the phone and asked for what would have been impossible perhaps even five years ago.

He asked Wenger how much he wanted for his talismanic striker who single handedly dragged the club into the Champions League after a dreadful start to the campaign.

Wenger had no choice; he had to parley. Van Persie had made it clear he wanted out implicitly suggesting Arsenal were a club who weren’t going places. Fergie knew what he wanted and splashed the cash to bring in the man whose goals he saw as crucial to any title bid.

Arsenal were impotent. Van Persie had said no to Manchester City and there weren’t many clubs willing to spend big on a 29 year old striker with a long record of injury. They had to take the money no matter where it came from and fans can only admire Fergie’s swift identification and purchase of a target, given Arsenal’s own dithering in the transfer market to save a few pounds .

It is that feeling of impotence that hurts most in North London. The trimutive that rules the club, absent owner Stan Kroenke, CEO Ivan Gazidis and Wenger have convinced themselves, and much of the support, trophies are no longer the be all and end all in football. In their eyes a healthy set of accounts and regular Champions League football are the benchmark of a successful modern football club, as if loyal fans will rush to get the 2011/2012 accounts tattooed on their biceps..

With diluted targets so the players being brought in were of a lesser quality than the Arsenal faithful have been used to. Chamakh, Park and Squillaci regularly appear in fans lists of the worst ever to wear the shirt while the likes of Andrei Arsharvin were frequently played out of position before being all but frozen out of North London.

Arsenal are now left with chasing a Champions League place, a trophy most fans realize they are a long way short of lifting, and finishing above North London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. They are no longer setting the agenda, they are being left in the slipstream of others whose boldness make the Gunners look like a doddering Etonian wondering whether he needs to install a new carpet in the boardroom.

They are left with the prospect of seeing Manchester United, with Robin Van Persie, being given a celebratory guard of honour next weekend at the Emirates, a sign of respect to the champions, and they don’t know how to react. Do they boo, do they turn their backs, do they heap vitriol on the one man who saved them the previous season?

That dilemma shows how far the club have fallen. The fans see Arsenal as a big club but a look at the utterances from the board room suggests the club think otherwise. The club are waving the white flag and the supporters are left with debating how to react to United’s success when they take to the Emirates billiard table smooth surface next weekend. 

Let Wenger and the Board be the guardofhonour - padan muka (serve them right). Please spare the players. Am getting out of town for this one, sickening...
win this and the totts will be sliding off their seats...if we win

honestly think best chance we have is if fergie fields a 'weaker' side
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