Date: 24th September 2011 at 10:10pm
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A fair few years back now, I can’t remember how many nor whether it was a birthday or Christmas gift, my son bought me a replica Arsenal shirt. It’s one of those vintage style ones from the 49-50 season. Quite a nice shirt I’d have to say. 100% cotton and made in the UK the label says. A decent cloth and rather a smart cut I feel unlike the clingy synthetic ones. I’ve never been one for wearing replica shirts to games and I can’t recall ever having done so. In fact apart from the odd attempt to wind up Spurs supporting mates at house parties I’ve hardly ever worn the thing. That would also have had something to do with it being a size too small for me and the image of obese Brits wearing replica shirts on Spanish beach holidays was too strong for me to feel comfortable with the look of my previously portly frame crammed into one. Having managed to shed a bit more than three stone over the last year though, it now fits like a glove. With its lack of use it hasn`t ever had to endure excessive washing or suffer the fading effect of the sun`s rays while shielded from daylight at the bottom of the shirt drawer. The red is still vibrant and the white still gloriously brilliant. I expected to feel a tad self-conscious walking to the station to take the train to the game but as it adorned my painfully acquired sleek, athletic figure I felt quite the part.

Andy in the ticket office, a long term gooner whose faith, along with most others, has been sorely tested of late, gave me the thumbs up as I approached the counter and prayed to the office ceiling as I said “Keep your fingers crossed”. I met my son at Victoria. He, more often than not, would be wearing an Arsenal shirt but this time had opted for his funereally black Ray Parlour ‘Romford Pele` t-shirt. He smiled broadly as he saw me wearing the shirt to a game for the first time. “Now is the time to be wearing the colours” I told him.

It`s been an odd time for gooners. The realisation that for all the clubs strengths and the resources we have added over the last 5 years we still sit behind clubs, domestically and internationally, with, for the present at least, far greater resources to call upon than we can muster is just beginning to dawn on the wider support. The frustration that for all those advantages others have we`ve still made a pretty good challenge for the major trophies, though the challenge has ultimately proved unsuccessful, has added to a spiralling feeling of negativity around the club. It`s an effect that Wenger had already referred to a couple of seasons back when claiming that the club had to work much harder to instil and build confidence in the team and players because of this negativity. My feeling though is that we may just have reached a level where expectations are now lower than they have been at anytime in the Wenger era which perversely enough is not a wholly bad thing.

As the big screens played scenes from past Bolton games and we watched Bergkamp hit a scorcher to win a game against Bolton at Highbury in Rioch`s reign sealing 5th position and a place in the Uefa cup the scenes at Highbury were of unabashed joy. Pat said to me “Can you imagine the same joy at sealing 5th place now?” It was a pertinent observation given the way expectations have changed. It seems we no longer know what good times really are.

As the game ended in a mixture of delight and relief some of the crowd started chanting ‘There`s only one Arsene Wenger` perhaps recognising that, though he claims and probably is strong enough to ‘take a distance` from all the negativity that currently afflicts the club, he is human and needs lifting too. At that precise moment Walcott collapsed on the pitch his injury adding the merest of sour notes to an otherwise positive afternoon. A reminder that being a great manager doesn`t guarantee that you`ll be a lucky one.

However this season pans out it`s hard for me not to find some agreement with the view Niko expressed in the forums that too much water has flowed under the bridge for Wenger himself to recover from the unfulfilled promises and expectations of the last few seasons whatever justification rational analysis would bring. The club is now strong though and maybe the possibility of a changing competitive environment, albeit slowly, will strengthen the club even more in relative terms over the coming seasons. But that may still not be quick enough for Arsene. His current contract runs until 2014 but the present imbalances may not shift enough for Arsene even if he stays that long. If they don`t then, as someone said earlier this week, with great pride and trailing clouds of glory we`ll still be able to carry him out on his shield. Someone will replace him – no-one is irreplaceable. Some said that we`d never be able to find another manager as innovative and with such a profound effect on the club after Chapman passed away but in fact it only took us a little over 60 years to do so.

For the moment after denial comes acceptance and maybe with that acceptance we`ll see a good part of the current negativity dissipate and the value of positive vibes along with an appreciation of what the good times really are will take its place. That could bring us more benefit than we currently realise. I think I`ll be wearing those colours again.

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