And so the cycle begins (again). Back-to-back wins against AC Milan and Watford may temporarily keep the ongoing disarray at Arsenal off the back pages, but it is only a matter of time before the team stutters and the glare of the football world is once again upon the Gunners. The latest dire run of form was arguably the worst episode yet. Defeats to Manchester City showcased just how far off the top of the table Arsenal really are these days – a case that was further exposed by Östersunds FK and Brighton. This prompted a staggering 88% of fans to call for Arsene Wenger’s head in a survey conducted by the Arsenal Supporters Trust. Despite the ‘Wenger Out’ movement spawning countless memes in the last year or so, the survey is the latest blow to what should have been an indisputable legacy. The increasing frequency of meltdowns on Arsenal Fan TV might be welcomed by rival supporters, but it gets to the point when the drawn-out, repetitive nature of these issues only succeeds in prompting sighs and groans across the board.
Certainly, as a club, Arsenal have stagnated. Wenger is a good few seasons past his sell-by-date and really should have bowed out on the back of the club’s 14/15 FA Cup triumph. Amidst Stan Kroenke’s various sports ventures in America, progression at Arsenal has either become lost or cast aside – and I am not sure which is more worrying. For his part, Ivan Gazidis continues to be diplomatic, but the ongoing feeling of inaction is surely only going to antagonise fans further. Yet, the club remain in the top six (in relative comfort) and, in financial terms, have at least made some effort to keep up – albeit unsuccessfully – with the rest of the pack. This season alone, the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are players that many teams could only dream of signing. In this light, it is easy to see why many are not sympathetic towards Arsenal’s plight.
As is the case with many things, it all comes down to a spectrum. The Gunners’ fanbase is one that is used to winning. The latest generation of fans are likely to be ones who either grew up watching Arsenal slug it out with Manchester United in the late 1990s and early 2000s for domestic supremacy or ones who jumped on the bandwagon as a result of their success in this period. The harsh reality in 2018 is that Arsenal are no longer considered one of the torchbearers of English football anymore. Or even London for that matter. Many are likely to herald it as a dark period for the club and they would not be wrong. After all, no fan would welcome the decline of their football club after such a long period of success. This – along with fundamental problems with the running of the club – are what connect Arsenal to other clubs who would argue for having big grievances than a club who have won three FA Cups in the last four seasons. And that is arguably where the issue lies: are Arsenal a club in crisis or simply one in decline?
You only need to turn your head east (or south if you’re looking at the Premier League table) to see what a club in crisis looks like. Impromptu protests below the director’s box mid-match, the club captain acting as head of security and more pitch invasions than goals scored in the last three games are not problems currently plaguing Arsenal. The word ‘toxic’ has been thrown around a lot when it comes to West Ham, but there really is no better word to sum up the general atmosphere surrounding the club. Don’t let the lazy journalism fool you: discontent has been brewing in the stands since early last season and nothing has been done to address concerns among fans that the club is losing its identity and heritage. The reaction was not to going 1-0 down in a crucial game as some so-called experts seem to believe – as a team we are more accustomed to losing than winning – its horrifying predictability was merely the trigger.
The 2015/16 season aside, the SuGo era has been one of false promises and continuous disappointment. For all talk of taking the club to the next level, they have been curiously short-term in their handling of the club: from managerial appointments to cheap and ageing signings. Unlike Arsenal, results haven’t helped ease the transition to a new ground for West Ham. Instead, it has fed into the feeling that the board are intent on uprooting the working-class traditions of the club – a case not helped by the continued treatment of supporters as customers rather than fans (was it really a good idea to promote merchandise commemorating Bobby Moore straight after the minute’s applause?). The unholy trinity of David Sullivan, David Gold and Karren Brady have previous form too. Just ask fans of Birmingham City.
Even this pales in comparison to the bleak future facing Dagenham & Redbridge. The resignation of Glyn Hopkin as director brought to light both the discontent among supporters and the need for a new buyer. In need of £300,000 to survive beyond the season, Dagenham are just one of numerous non-league outfits struggling to stay afloat. Criminally, the likes of Dagenham and Hartlepool only require a fraction of what most top flight players make a year to simply stay in existence. In Dagenham’s case, their non-league status has made them even more susceptible to the competitiveness of football within London. Poor attendances and high ticket prices have placed an even greater strain on the club’s finances, forcing the club to part with several players in order to trim the wage bill, including captain Scott Doe. A friendly with neighbours, West Ham has been organised with all proceeds going to the cash-strapped Daggers to hopefully alleviate the pressure currently on the club. Likewise, Hartlepool remain in desperate need of a takeover, whilst Dulwich Hamlet face a ground-share with Tooting & Mitcham after having their license to play at their home since 1912 terminated following a bitter and spiteful dispute with property investment fund, Meadow.
Ultimately, that is what it all comes down to. The loss of dominance for Arsenal, the loss of identity for West Ham and the potential loss of existence for Dagenham. Each fanbase is facing a challenge to something they regard as fundamental to their club. Fans of Dagenham, Hartlepool and Dulwich Hamlet are likely to disregard the complaints of a fanbase whose side are statistically still the sixth best in the country. Yet, those fans are used to seeing their side compete with some of the finest clubs in Europe, so much so that their current plight is completely alien to supporters unaccustomed to anything but silverware and success. Similarly, the reaction to the protests at the London Stadium prove just how misunderstood the situation is to some fans outside of the club. As mentioned before, each club has a spectrum and the only ones who can truly comprehend the discontent are the fans themselves.
Do Arsenal fans have a right to complain when other clubs are fighting for their own survival? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!