Being a football fan is often compared to following a religion, and right now Arsenal fans need to renew their faith in the club as much as in the individual players and the manager.
Whilst many just want the last game of the season on Sunday to be over and done with, the match against Fulham represents a good chance for the players to lift some of the doom and gloom hanging over the club.
Another abject performance will see Arsenal fans spend the summer struggling to find positives about the club. However, should all the players actually show some fighting spirit and win the game, the negative feeling around the club will potentially improve.
Craven Cottage is more a chapel than a cathedral of football, but it’s a traditional ground that, forgetting the Michael Jackson statue, represents what Arsenal need to do on Sunday; go back to basics. It’s also on the banks of a river, but that’s a coincidence in the religious/biblical metaphor.
The Gunners need to revert to playing the football that raised fans’ hopes in January and February this season. Clearly the attitude hasn’t been right in recent games, and due to the poor run of form it seems the players are thinking too much about what they’re doing. Their natural instinct is being curbed by a negative mentality. Up until the Carling Cup final, Arsenal were playing great football and getting results, and should that return, a win at Fulham would inevitably follow.
Just reverting to playing well again isn’t as simple as flicking a switch on and off, but with little or no pressure on the team, they have the chance to give the fans something to cheer. Obviously winning this one game wouldn’t hide the failings of the season, and in many ways a thumping victory would increase frustration at what might have been, but something has to be done to make fans remember why they put so much time and effort into following the club. The players need to restore some pride for themselves and for the fans, as Arsenal are currently at the end of jokes from most opposing fans.
Playing away from the Emirates could help as the atmosphere last week against Aston Villa wasn’t pleasant. The away fans at Craven Cottage will undoubtedly be in good voice, as they are whatever stadium or situation the team are in, and this will be needed more than ever to raise the spirits of this side.
On the pitch, there won’t be much pressure on Arsenal as the expectation level of the team is so low at the moment. With third place now unlikely, the players should relax and give everything to win the game and just see if Bolton do them a favour against Manchester City. Without suggesting they won’t give 100%, I’d be surprised if Fulham take a physical approach to the game with a Europa League fair play place up for grabs, so there’s a possibility Arsenal will be afforded more space to play their normal attacking game.
However, should Arsenal fail to turn up with the right attitude and level of commitment, they’ll leave the fans still questioning all areas of the club. No-one wants this negative feeling to linger amongst supporters, so this is the last chance for a few months for the players to make loyal fans feel good about Arsenal again. The fans’ faith in the players, the manager and the club as a whole is probably at its lowest under Arsene Wenger, and a rousing away day win could be what is needed to remind fans why they bother following the club.
A win will not solve any of the bigger issues at the club in terms of the playing squad, ownership and ticket prices, but it would serve as a reminder that being an Arsenal fan at the moment isn’t as depressing as some are making out, and that it is worth keeping the faith.
However, not everyone connected with the club has faith or is ready to renew it. There were quotes from Denilson across the newspapers on Friday morning, saying that he is ready to leave the club. It is always a shame to hear that any member of the squad is unhappy at Arsenal, however I doubt there will be many supporters who will mourn his departure.
The Brazilian midfielder could have been a good player for Arsenal, however he never seemed to apply his talent properly on the pitch. He was capable of playing a great pass or scoring from long range, but those moments were too rare alongside sideways passes, a poor work rate and needless fouls. Good luck to Denilson wherever he goes, but I sense that he’s wasted the best opportunity of his career to play at the highest level.
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