The sound from the Emirates crowd at the final whistle said everything about Arsenal in 2017. It was the perfect aural summation, as 60,000 people made a noise that was part groan of relief, part sigh of disappointment, part yawning indifference. The game had ended and no-one was especially bothered, one way or another. Yeah, they’d seen four goals but it was as if neither the crowd, nor the players cared overmuch by the 93rd minute. Let’s all just go home.
There had been precious little urgency on the pitch, not even in the last five minutes, when one goal would have surely won it. Indeed, the whole afternoon had a strange, slightly unreal vibe about it, which I couldn’t quite name…until the moment the referee blew the final whistle.
There’s been so much debate about whether Arsenal’s manager should stay or go and we’re all so weary of the whole damned thing. But that final whistle illustrated exactly what the problem is with having a manager for over two decades: everyone has all seen it all before. Players, fans, pundits, TV audience, Steve sodding Bould. Everyone. Nothing changes. Even his jumper and tie. Oh no, not again. After over 20 years, there’s nothing new to witness at Arsenal. It doesn’t even matter how the team does now. Familiarity hasn’t bred contempt, it’s bred something far worse: the B word.
It’s no one individual’s fault. It just happens with the passage of so much time. There’s nothing left to talk about. Nothing left to say. No words he can utter with a sparkling passion, no new or interesting perspective, regardless of whether it is wisdom or stupidity. It’s not even to do with the football, nor to do with his character, or the team’s performance, or the players he does or doesn’t sign. It’s just to do with still being there. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ is a cliche but not an accurate one. Familiarity more usually breeds indifference and then boredom. Sometimes it seems as if even he is tired of standing there, as it all plays out again.
His ever presence cloaks everything in a choking blanket of repetition, which means that whether there are great wins, tedious draws or embarrassing losses, it makes no difference to anything, no difference to the yeah-been-there-done-that mood. There is no new ground to break. No new territory to conquer. The time has come, the song is over and only Wenger can hear the music still playing.
If a goal is scored, there’s a brief flickering of the flame of passion, then the fans turn to the dugout and there he is, doing that fist-shaking thing as usual, on and on, forever, and the flame dies again, starved of the oxygen of excitement by the inert gas of predictability. You can’t avoid the fact that it’s just another moment, like all the other moments, lived so many times before in over 20 years. And once more the passion dies to be replaced by the apologised-for yawn on the sofa of a marriage that lost its point once the kids left home and is now seeking thrills in the Antiques Roadshow.
Much is made in life of being dependable, consistent and loyal, and they are noble virtues. But what few are prepared to admit is that those three characteristics can make you very, very, very f**king boring. And in time, boredom evaporates love and makes a relationship untenable. I should know this because I’ve been with my missus for 37 years and if you don’t constantly reinvent your life together, you die of sodding boredom. Just doing what you’ve always done is an absolute living death. Snug, cozy comfort is soon replaced by eye-watering tedium and an almost painful lust for change. Without the thrill of the new, it’s all over. So we keep things interesting by starting new businesses, by getting involved in new projects, and by stopping doing whatever the hell we’ve been doing, and by starting doing something else. And it’s worked so far, but who knows for how much longer? Take anything for granted for too long and it soon withers on the vine.
It’s not that there’s a lack of respect for Wenger. There’s no hatred or anger. No. That’s too much passion. The chloroform cloud around his tenure makes passion impossible. That end of game vague murmur of numb indifference is the mood that he has engendered in all of us.
On TV and radio, presenters and pundits are visibly and audibly drained by the whole thing. He’s been there so long, every single thing that can be said or written about him, has been said or written. Arsenal are a big, important club, so it has to be raised, but you can see and hear the weariness it invests in everyone. Everywhere else in the league, there is excitement, controversy, change, hope and balls-to-the-wall rock ‘n’ roll, but Arsene just turns the low hum of monotony up to 11 to drown out the good times everyone else is having. At Arsenal the sexy underwear has been replaced with the onesie.
Stasis is an airless void of nothingness which robs out all the joy, and replaces it with cold nihilism. And when that happens in your football ground, the noise you make is that part groan of relief, part sigh of disappointment, part yawning indifference we heard on Sunday afternoon, because Arsenal’s get up and go, has got up and went. They have become comfortably numb.