For many, the root of Arsenal’s problems is clear. It lies in the following people: Peter Hill-Wood, Ivan Gazidis, Stan Kroenke and Arsene Wenger. These, it is said, are the people who have caused Arsenal’s trophy drought, the people who are leading the club out of the glory land of Europe.
But could the fans be culpable too?
I consider this question by exploring the following myth.
Myth: Supporting Arsenal when they aren't doing well is tantamount to lack of ambition
Support isn't unaware of weaknesses or faults, but by its very nature, it seeks rather to build up, even (or especially) in the face of these faults and weaknesses, whether obvious or subtle.
True, there are times when drastic measures are necessary to eliminate these faults and weakness, much like surgery is sometimes needed to heal the body, or much like a faulty building must be demolished so that a sturdier one can be built. Yet, even when surgery or demolition is called for, each must be done with great care. Skill, expertise and wisdom are required in both situations.
Psychologically, support (much of it) is often required if healing is to happen in a distressing situation. Good parents and good mentors are aware of this, certainly, good managers too.
When many people chose to be positive at moments when Arsenal are not doing well on the pitch, it isn't because these supporters aren't ambitious, nor is it because they are not aware of some of the problems ailing the team. They do so, rather, because in many instances, adding salt to an injury does not help.
If Thomas Vermaelen or Per Mertesacker or Nacho Monreal or even Jack Wilshere makes a mistake in a match, the first person to know it is the player himself. And to know that one has made a mistake (a public one at that) can't be the greatest feeling in the world.
We can be sure that it exerts a psychological effect, much like praise does.
Imagine then that 60,000 people begin to focus on this mistake and blame you publicly for it. Imagine how discouraging and devastating this must be—not hard to imagine, I'm sure, in these days of TV talk shows where people go to blame their parents, guardians, teachers and whatnot about how these people are responsible for their problems.
My point is that many who are quick to hurl blame and quick to criticize are often the first to say, "Don't judge me; you don't know me."
For me, I choose to focus on the positives at dark moments because I know praise and encouragement can do wonders where negative criticism can tear down.
I believe this is what the responsibility of a supporter consists of. It cannot be that one cheers only when things are swell with the team. If anything, it can be argued that it is at the darkest moments that a team needs its supporters the most.
It is the reason why as an Arsenal fan, I'd rather that Chelsea supporters continue to vilify Rafa Benitez, that they continue to cultivate a negative atmosphere at Stanford Bridge, because this isn't helpful to the team. When they behave this way, they are unwittingly helping Chelsea's opponents.
Similarly, as long as the atmosphere continues to be negative at the Emirates, Arsenal's performance will continue to suffer there.
The human psyche is such that praise can do wonders. A child who grows up being told he is wonderful is likely to succeed, whereas the one who is constantly told he isn't good enough likely won't. I believe this applies to team performance as well.
Accordingly, does Arsenal have problems? Certainly. Do our defenders know that they make mistakes from time to time? Of course. Are the tactics sometimes wrong? Yes, but every manager gets tactics wrong now and again. Are we aware that we don't have the best players? Indeed.
But it is foolhardy to focus on all this to the detriment of the obvious positive elements we can find in the team.
I'd rather we stood behind our team, spur our players on and help them overcome their problems. Heaping blame and endless criticism does not help the team. These only add to the problem.
Therefore, it is not true that being positive about the team in its darkest moments constitutes lack of ambition. Perhaps those who do so are only too aware that mindless criticism (and surely the surfeit of it) causes more harm than good.