It was Bruce Springsteen or perhaps Soren Kierkegaard who once said, “time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister, but boring stories of…glory days, well, they’ll pass you by, glory days…” which brings to mind Thierry Henry’s comments about returning to Arsenal some day. For those of whose hearts go all a-flutter at the idea of a pantherine Henry loping down the left wing to once again terrorize defenders and keepers, I have two quick comments: one, he’ll be 40 before he finishes his Red Bulls contract. Two, stop living in the past.
Sure, when we compare Arsenal v.2013 with Arsenal v.2004, the differences are glaring. The names roll of the tongue, leaving behind a honeyed ambrosia of nostalgia and wistful longings: Henry… Bergkamp…Pires…Tour…Ljungberg…and the images float before the mind’s eye, men in red flitting and galloping , balls darting and rocketing past hapless keepers. It was a heady time. But it’s also nearly a decade behind us. The men themselves have receding hairlines and ever-growing paunches. It’s sad, but true. However, sadder than that is the fan who talks and thinks only of those glory days. We all know at least one. Hell, we’ve all been that fan at various points. I remember at one point assembling a roster that we coulda had if only certain players had stayed. The mouth waters at the prospect, and–look!–we only need a few players back! And there are even a few more I left out to consider–Adebayor, Nasri, and Cole may sound like a villainous law firm in a Grisham movie, and I can’t quite explain why–but if we could just get the ol’ gang back together, we’d be #1 all over again! Feh.
Look. I understand why we talk so much about the Invincibles and the last trophy we’ve won, the 2005 FA Cup. Those were some great times. However, the good times can’t–and shouldn’t–last. Part of being a fan is sticking with the team in good times and in bad. If your team is always in first place and wins championships each year, it gets a little less thrilling, and the fans become more and more insufferable, like those who root for the Yankees or Man U. I’m not saying teams should just fall apart once in a while just to keep things interesting, but success and failure rise and fall like [insert poetic metaphor here–tides?]. On that note, if 4th place in the Premier League, 5th round action in the FA Cup, and Round of 16 Champions League qualification 13 years in a row all add up to “failure” to you, I would like just a few of the mushrooms you’ve been noshing for my salad. The fact that we’re in this position, while losing the players we’ve lost and chasing the bankrolled teams ahead of us as well as we have, without prostituting our club to the first sleazy oil tycoon to ogle us is a testament to Wenger’s management and philosophy. Quit your whingeing (did I say that right? I’m a Yank, not a Brit) and enjoy it for what it is (most of the time–stylish, enjoyable footballing.
I’m a Chicago Bears fan–they haven’t won Super Bowl since 1986. My St. Louis Cardinals did win back-to-back World Series in 2005 and 2006. The Bulls haven’t won a championship since 1997. I cherish those days–and, like Arsenal, those teams are chasing better, wealthier teams while looking anxiously over their shoulders at hungrier teams chasing them. However, there’s a limit. I don’t sit around waiting for Michael Jordan to unretire or for Mark McGwire to pick up a bat again. It was truly wonderful to see Henry come back last year to score one more vintage goal. I still get a little teary when I see it, but that’s more of a curtain-call than a strategy for winning. I hope Henry joins the team in some kind of coaching role, but I digress.
We have a solid team that seems to be getting better at the right time. For all intents and purposes, Giroud, Cazorla, Podolsky, and even Wilshere are still adjusting to a new team. They are gelling well even if they don’t offer the same verve or flair of others ahead of us (at the moment). Relax. Enjoy. We are still Arsenal, after all, and we play some of the best football in the league. Trophies will come.