“Hello, darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.”
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, in the comforts of my living room, I saw Arsenal crash out of the round of 16 in the Champions League. Again. For the sixth consecutive season.
Hours before the first leg kicked off on 15 February, Arsenal’s (on paper) captain Per Mertesacker tweeted something prophetic. For the outsiders, it looked like he was firing a rallying call to his team entering the cauldron of Bayern Munich. He said: “We mean business tonight.”
We mean business tonight! #UCL #BAYARS pic.twitter.com/47ne3RVem6— Per Mertesacker (@mertesacker) February 15, 2017
A fortnight and 180 minutes of football later, Arsenal bid goodbye to the Champions League with a 10-2 aggregate defeat.
Mertesacker’s words, unfortunately, now mean something else entirely. He was proved right, in a way, because Arsenal Football Club has been reduced to just that: business.
Big defeats are not new for us Arsenal fans, especially in the second half of the Arsene Wenger era. 8-2 at Old Trafford against Manchester United. 6-0 against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. 5-1 versus Liverpool at Anfield that same year. Multiple 5-1 defeats to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. 4-0 against a supposedly weak AC Milan side in a winnable European fixture.
I have seen every one of them. I have felt the pain after all of those defeats. I have even laughed at the comedy of errors that became an Arsenal trademark — a defense mechanism to deal with the disappointment. I have felt outrage. I have felt a need to stand up for the club I love, and defend it in tough times. I have felt sympathy for Wenger — the man who has overseen all these defeats, with his hair greying by the minute, on the sidelines. I have felt sorry for him. And on most occasions, even after a crushing defeat, I have also felt hope.
But during this defeat, I did something that I did not even consider during any of the aforementioned disasters — I switched off the television before the final whistle.
Because now, I feel nothing. I find myself not caring, not angry, not having the energy to even rant.
In all the years Wenger has spent at Arsenal, there’s never been a point like today — where an absolute majority of the club’s supporters would be happy to see Wenger leave. If that feels like a generalisation, trust me, it is not. Even the most staunch Wenger supporters have waved the white flag.
You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
I can sit here today and write opinion pieces on why Wenger must go, on how the board have made Arsenal their personal savings account. I can analyse the tactics that led to the second worst margin of defeat for any club in Champions League history. I can criticise the refereeing on Tuesday night that played no small part in the margin of the defeat.
But there is a sense of pointlessness to it all. In many ways, there has been a sense of inevitability as well to what’s happening with Arsenal. You would not have found many Arsenal fans who said, hands to their hearts, that they thought the result of this fixture would have been any different — even if the most pessimistic ones could not have seen this scoreline coming.
There is no way to prove this, but it won’t be an exaggeration to say to no one cares about Arsenal more than Wenger himself — his every waking minute is spent worrying about the club. But, as a result of how invested he is with the club, there is no dissenting voice from within what he built. And, at such a time — as was evidenced by Alexis Sanchez having a laugh on the bench with the scorecard reading 1-4 — he doesn’t even have the shoulders of his best player to lean on.
The fact of the matter is Arsenal, like a stinky puddle of sewer on a pot-hole ridden road, have stagnated. Perhaps even beyond repair. I don’t feel the excitement of looking forward to an Arsenal game. Even the pretense of enjoying beautiful football and celebrating glorious failure is absent. It’s become a chore. An activity that I force myself to do. It’s the same drill, repeated annually. It’s the same movie, re-releasing with a different cast every year. It’s the same manager, giving the same excuses.
The saddest indictment of the current Arsenal side is that I, and presumably a lot of other fans, . have gone from ‘stopped expecting’ to ‘stopped caring.’
For me, the dream is gone and I am now just comfortably numb.