Defensive Pessimism: The Strategy Perfected by Arsenal Doom and Gloom Merchants

Darius StoneContributor IFebruary 2, 2010

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Arsenal fans show their support during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on December 13, 2009 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Naval-gazing sometimes blinds you to the reality that you don’t hold the monopoly on some things in life. Take the effect of the latter-day fickle, fair weather, "Johnny come lately" plastic Arsenal fan.

You’ll find them all over the message boards and blogs for they were handed the freedom of the web by Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat on Sunday. I guess it’s healthy to occasionally let the doom and gloom merchants out for a bit of fresh air.

You’d think that it’s bad enough that the media and footballing establishment outside the Arsenal are defecating on the club and its supporters from a very high ground. Well, it’s apparently not—and the doom and gloom brigade makes you wonder what Arsenal football club did in a previous life to deserve these kinds of fans.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. I’m not talking about committed supporters who, like me, were thoroughly disappointed by the manner in which we lost the game. It wasn’t so much that we lost the game, it was how we actually lost the game.

I’m not talking about committed fans who are rightfully venting their frustration about Arsenal’s tactical naivety and lack of fight. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that this sort of supporter could live with losing such a match if the team fought to the death and sweated blood and thunder.

I’m talking about the gutless and spineless doom and gloom merchant who has perfected the art of defensive pessimism. A couple of weeks ago, I suggested 6 ways Arsenal fans can survive the season in my regular Stone Cold Friday column on ACLF.

Axis, a regular contributor on the column, introduced the angle of defensive pessimism in a way that I hadn’t even thought about. It’s surreal to actually watch it play out right in front of us.


Defensive pessimism is a motivated cognitive strategy that helps people manage their anxiety and pursue their goals. Individuals who use defensive pessimism set low expectations and play through extensive mental simulations of possible negative outcomes as they prepare for goal-relevant situations.

I wouldn’t be the least surprised if a Google or Bing search for "Arsenal supporters" returned the following results:

  • It’s the same old story.
  • We have too many injuries.
  • We’re just a lightweight team.
  • Wenger has taken this team as far as he can, and he has to go.
  • Arsenal must splash the cash.
  • Like always, we had possession but did nothing with it.
  • We can’t beat the top sides.

You catch my drift…

To tell you the truth, the fallacy that you need to beat the so-called big teams to win the league is bandied about too much and it’s entirely without merit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a damn good feeling tonking Chelsea, Man United, or Liverpool, but the win is much more of a psychological advantage than a title decider.

If I tried hard enough, I’d find the statistics to illustrate that for example, in the last three years, if you consider the top four in their own mini league, Man United actually performed very badly against the other top-four sides. Yet, on three occasions, they won the league.

It’s not that I like losing to the big teams—my point is that suggesting that this is Arsenal’s biggest problem is a red herring. Pressing the red self-destruct button every time Arsenal face a challenge is self defeatist.

My take is that a lot of the doom and gloom merchants are projecting their own insecurities and self esteem issues when they kick into the defensive pessimism mode. I dread to think what such folks would do each time their child doesn’t make the grade in school.

It’s one thing analysing and critiquing tactical matters on the pitch, and it’s healthy to do it regularly. However, it’s a whole new ball game with the Arsenal Armageddon nonsense every time the team loses or draws a game. A modicum of perspective wouldn’t go amiss here.

Dean, my Liverpool-loving friend is somewhat bemused as he wonders what all the fuss is about. “Arsenal has the brightest and most equipped team to cope for the future and your fans just keep bitching. Try being a Liverpool fan and see what it’s like not winning the league for 20 years.”

We both agree on one thing though—it’s only a matter of time before this Arsenal team takes what is rightfully theirs in title glory. The last mile is the hardest, but what chance does Arsenal have if certain fans go into self destruct every time an obstacle is placed in front of the team?

After the defeat to Chelsea on Nov. 29, 2009, no one gave this Arsenal team a chance to recover. Imagine what this team can do if supported properly instead of the fair-weather joke of a following that sometimes bares its ugly teeth.

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