With Kolo Toure's departure to the Eastlands, many a Gooner is grumbling that our once proud club, six years removed from the fabled Invincibles and four years removed from our last piece of silver, has fallen into irreparable status.
Such times force fans to wonder about the nature of their interest, whether it will ever be rewarded, and if a crippled team deserves such an interest. The mind begins to contemplate a break, which subsequently leads to reexamining the origins of support. To uproot something, you must dig back down to the roots.
Unlike the other teams I support, whose fortunes were fixed into my head so long ago that rooting for them is compulsive, I came to world football late enough and objectively enough to make a conscious decision about what outfit to toss in with.
I grew up in Denver, where no real football (played with the feet) allegiances exist. I was old enough to not be swayed by petty things like a team's colors or name. I knew little about the tactics of the game, aside from its main objective. The only reason I'd even heard of Arsenal was Fever Pitch.
The first Arsenal match I watched was the 2006 Champions League Final, and given that match's outcome, it would be expected that as a fair-weathered American, I would've slipped into supporting Barcelona.
But I remember being impressed that Arsenal was the first London club to make the Final, clapping with pleasure at Sol Campbell's superb headed goal, feeling angry with Jens Lehmann (a feeling I never really relinquished), and disappointed when Manuel Almunia failed to handle Belletti's strike. I also recall being impressed with Cesc Fabregas.
Perhaps because Arsenal scored first and with such quality, I felt compelled to root for them, although normally when I watch a game, I always pull for the team that is behind. It might've been the fluidity of the 4-5-1, but regardless, I was hooked.
I began watching games regularly, and to this point my all-time favorite match was the 2-0 Champions League quarterfinal win over AC Milan in 2008. Something about Walcott's escape down the wing to set up the finishing goal just sticks.
Even though it is looking much less likely that the Gunners will win anything this season, and in the foreseeable future, I will support them through their indignities and embarrassments. I admire the speed and beauty on the pitch, and I am somewhat pretentious in my belief that we develop talent better than anyone, even if so much of it escapes us at the moment.
My hope is that once the stadium debt is payed off, we will become more transfer window shoppers, though I'm realistic enough to realize that Real Madrid-type splurging will never be in the offing.
Although I see Kroenke at the Pepsi Center watching his favored Nuggets, and I appreciate the attention he lavishes on them, I have an urge to confront him and say, if a Glazer-type takeover is imminent, that he should allocate more money for the midfield.
There's a pub in Atlanta called The Brewhouse, where fans gather to watch Arsenal regularly. I join them whenever I can. They are congenial and knowledgeable, quick to fill me on the reserves and explain any tactic that might still escape me. On one wall hangs a jersey from the 1991 title-winning campaign. On another wall hangs a picture of Highbury.
I recall watching the Champions League semifinal at the Emirates, and how we all fell silent after Kieran Gibbs slipped and allowed United to score. Everyone looked down at their drinks, stoically accepting that this would likely be yet another season without a trophy.
Quite suddenly, a Frenchman who teaches in Atlanta and supports Arsenal (predictably) because of Wenger, cleared his throat and announced "Clichy will talk to him, and next year he'll win that ball easily. With his pace, Manchester won't know what to do." Everyone nodded and, though we were stoic through the rest of the game, we sang at the end of it.
As I was leaving, the French teacher grabbed my arm and asked "We'll see you here next season, right?" I nodded and asked the same thing, which caused the man to break into a large grin. "Of course," he answered, "All the young players will have matured." He leaned a little closer, "I think we will surprise many people."
That, I suppose, is as good a reason as any.
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