Arteta and Apathy
By Sumaiya Vawda
What fuels a football fan? Hope. Rivalry. Competition. Synergy. Following a football club is an investment of time and devotion - the more you invest, the greater utility you attain. But what happens when you're struggling to identify the object of your passion?
There is a grocery list of issues at Arsenal. When you drill down to the core, there is uncertainty over players' appropriateness, manager, directorship, and owners. That can leave one tumbling in a mental black hole.
These issues have arguably lingered for multiple years. Yet, if social media is to be believed, detachment is creeping up on many Arsenal fans in a way it never has before.
Subsequent to the Brentford defeat, rumours of senior players revolting circulated. We heard that plotline not long ago as it scented the end of Emery's reign.
These very players are not performing to the desired level, nor do Arteta's tactics necessarily suit them. Then towards who should fans direct discontent? Is this discontent a new bout or simply a continuation from last season's disarray amid losing to Villareal in a European semi-final?
Sure, discontent is a natural response to events not aligning with your plan. However, something distinct of the Arteta reign is pervasive apathy. There is very little attachment to his slogans and perhaps less happiness to be found in the dour football.
Big wins on the way to an FA Cup trophy were not enjoyable football. Maybe you recall a flowing, incisive move passing from the defence to the back of the net, but there was more nervous defending (think Aubameyang attempting to stop crosses) than flair and comfort.
With Arteta at the helm, any momentum or good feeling is quickly quelled. The transfers of Martin Ødegaard and Sambi Lokonga carried a glow of debate and intrigue, only for one to be jolted by Granit Xhaka’s contract extension.
Four more years of an athletically limited midfielder, countless errors, likely red cards and a lack of ball-winning wrapped in the pretence of leadership. Yes, the player may not remain for the entire contract, but signing him into his 30s is hardly a smile-inducer.
It’s difficult to exercise a deep loyalty when you are uncertain that all within the club are acting in its best interests. If they were, Kia Joorabchian wouldn't be lurking, and some 'free' signings wouldn't have been made.
Under Arteta's cold gaze, players are either rooted in the first team or shunned altogether. There is no middle ground and little show of empathy (see: the curious case of Maitland-Niles). Another source of indifference is the cyclical nature of defeats. Occupying last place with no goals scored is mind-numbing.
When trailing at half-time, the Gunners have not secured a single victory since Arteta took over. It seems an impregnable mental barrier has been constructed in players and fans alike - defeat is an inevitability when behind.
Slow passing, opposition weakness and individual fervour have to conspire for Arsenal to score but to concede, it takes only a tiny blip, and all heads are already in hands.
There is a belief that if this team were to push to its limits, Arteta revamps his tactical calls, and players hit their individual targets, they stand a chance to finish fifth or sixth. Whilst respectable, this ceiling isn't getting anyone out of their chairs.
Why is football so widely watched? It's because, beneath the tactical analysis, rhythmic movement and financial fast-talk, it's quite a simple game of person, ball, opportunity and unpredictability. But that touch of excitement has been lost at Arsenal because where other teams may play the margins and beat any team on their day, there is a foreboding undertone to this squad.
When the club hasn't won against Manchester City in the league for six years, one looks to the intangibles to stay engaged. Has there been any recent feel-good fan moments apart from those manufactured for Adidas?
The simplicity of passion escapes when you have to play fan, accountant, manager and rage artist just to consolidate your feelings. Fear not: this hollow can be filled. The antithesis of apathy is what Bukayo Saka, and Emile Smith Rowe elicit in a fan. The hope is that entertaining, possession-based football can be played with young Arsenal talents.