It was a May night in 1972 when my mother and grandmother made a decision that would change my life. They woke me up at about 11.45pm for a special treat: to sit down and watch the English FA Cup final between Leeds United and Arsenal.
I don’t even remember why or when I started watching football, but I remember why I started supporting Arsenal – Thierry Henry.
Henry was ruthless. He was direct. He made me want to be a striker and he made me love the Gunners.
As a child, my life quickly started to revolve around Arsenal. The first jersey I ever got was Henry 14. The Gunners were the only team I could play as on FIFA.
Everyone else at school seemed to support Manchester United, but Arsenal was always the side that I identified with.
Watching a full 90-minute match was rare. We didn’t have Foxtel and I was never allowed to stay up late to watch any games that may have been televised.
So, I had to anxiously wait for the Premier League highlights show on SBS to find out whether my beloved boys in red managed to gain all three points.
More often than not they would, and if they didn’t, it would ruin my week.
Fast-forward 16 years and I’m still the same obsessed fan. The only difference being that for the past eight or so years I’ve had access to the Premier League week in and week out.
For those seasons I’ve watched with the same blind faith that so many Arsenal fans have experienced.
When we signed the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and now Alexandre Lacazette, maybe things will be different we all thought.
It never is and until there is a change, there never will be.
My loyalty to Arsenal has never been in doubt. I will always love them, but it’s hard for me to watch them play. It has been for a long time.
Still, I never miss a game.
This week Arsenal got thrashed 4-nil by Liverpool.
Arsene Wenger left Saed Kolasinac, a left back who was part of the Bundesliga Team of the Year last season, on the bench, and put a right back in his position.
Wenger left Lacazette, a record-breaking signing who’s hungry for goals, on the bench and instead played an out-of-form Danny Welbeck.
Thierry Henry said he turned his chair and found the game “hard to watch.” No one, expert or fan, seemed to understand the tactics he’d employed.
Wenger himself can’t seem to justify the decisions he’s made, not just against Liverpool, but for the past 13 years.
Last season Arsenal finished fifth and missed out on Champions League football. It’s the first time under Wenger that they: (1) failed to qualify for top European competition, (2) finished outside the top four and (3) finished below bitter rivals Tottenham (that one hurts the most).
Still, Wenger has managed to grab himself another two years as manager, and a two-million pound pay rise taking him up to ten million a year.
The loss against Liverpool was the last straw for me.
All this time I have been firmly in the ‘Wenger In’ camp. Not just because I believed in him, but out of respect for what he was done for the Arsenal Football Club.
I believed it was owner Stan Kroenke that was the real problem. The only problem.
This is because Kroenke doesn’t love Arsenal. For him Arsenal is a business that happens to be a football club. He likes profit, and doesn’t care about results or the fans.
Yes, we may have broken our fee-record for Lacazette, but when you take into account all the players we have sold (and will probably sell), Kroenke is only four million away from a profit.
To put that into context, we have spent less than Huddersfield Town, who currently sit third on the Premier League table, unbeaten after three games.
The fans are kept in the dark about what happens behind the scenes, and when you consider that the Gunners are the most expensive team in Europe to watch, and Arsenal make more money on a matchday than any other European club, this is simply unacceptable.
When you take all the power away from the fans, you start to suck the life out of the club. The fans are the heart and soul of any team and that will never change.
It’s true that Kroenke and Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis are leaving Wenger out to dry. However, it’s the manager, not the owners, making the tactical decisions.
Arsenal are in a position where they have to make do with that they have, but they don’t lack talent, just a backbone.
That’s why it hurts so much. The squad is strong, but Wenger is not. Neither is the board. From top to bottom, Arsenal has become a weak club.
This is because they are comfortable. The owners know that Arsenal will continue to line their pockets. The manager knows that he will leave on his own terms. The players know that regardless of the result they’ll still get game time and be paid tens of thousands every week.
There’s no hunger. There’s no drive. It’s dead.
At any other club, Ozil would not have this divine right to start and play 90 minutes every game. At any other club Wenger would have been gone long ago.
The saddest part about Arsenal’s current state of affairs is the club they used to be.
The Gunners played beautiful football and other clubs, and their fans, feared us when it came time to play the mighty Arsenal Football Club, especially at home.
Now people look forward to facing Arsenal. It’s a very winnable game, and every fan of every team knows it.
The only ‘real’ thing that Arsenal have left are the support of the fans. The fans will never turn on them. Being ‘Wenger Out’ doesn’t make you a traitor. The club is called Arsenal FC, not ‘Arsene FC’.
Of course, should another manager sign tomorrow, things may not get better right away, but we have to take lessons from Manchester United and Liverpool, sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.
Under Wenger it will never get better. That’s because Wenger is to the Premier League what Ronda Rousey was to the UFC. Their respective sports developed, but they didn’t evolve with it.
At least Rousey knew when to quit.
At this point all I’m hoping for is desire. I want to see Arsenal return the passion that millions of fans give them. It’s not about winning and losing right now. All I want to see the club I love try.
Me? I’ll always be Arsenal ’til I die.