Lap of dishonour ends yet another frustrating season

SO here we Gooners are again, the uninvited guests with our noses enviously pressed up against the pub’s frosted windows, missing out on all the jollity of yet another end of season lock-in.

I celebrated Newcastle’s late equaliser at Chelsea, maintaining a glimmer of hope of having something to play for against Villa. At the very least, I expected the Gunners to turn up for the curtain call, if only for the self-serving purpose of preventing Man City from leapfrogging us and avoid the cataclysmic banana skin of a Champions League qualifier. Never mind paying their dues, by putting on a bit of a show for all of us poor put-upon punters.

But then judging by the surprisingly obvious number of empty seats at the Emirates on Sunday, I guess that unlike this particular muggins, plenty of our more fickle faithful had seen the writing on the wall.

At 0-2 down to a dreadfully mediocre and managerless Villa and with so little evidence on the pitch of the sort of desire necessary, it was the customary announcement of a farcical full-house attendance figure and the utterly fictitious total for the season. The straw that broke the back of so many dissatisfied Gooner dromedaries.

Knowing how deep we’ve had to dig into our threadbare pockets to contribute to such profitable figures, this announcement provoked the most raucous response of the afternoon, as all our pent-up fury and frustration was targeted towards the directors’ box, with a vitriolic chorus of “6%, you’re having a larf!”

It’s debatable whether the disapprobation of the plebs registered with chairman Hill-Wood, above the clink of their Crystal-filled champagne glasses and the clatter of the cash-tills in our 200 quid a head Club Level eateries, as the board celebrated the culmination of another “sustainable” season.

It felt like a more effective means of expressing our displeasure at the club’s focus on keeping the bank balance in the black, than the negligible evidence of natty scarves of the same colour, worn by a smattering of the 500-odd Gooners who joined the BSM (Black Scarf Movement) protest march before the match.

Although I might concur with many sentiments expressed by the BSM (see www.wherehasourarsenalgone.webeden.co.uk), the simple answer is Arsenal have followed the money.

Myself, I’d give my right arm to still be enjoying the more intimate environs of Highbury but I accept the reality that if we hadn’t had the foresight to climb aboard the corporate gravy train, we’d be struggling along with all those other clubs playing catch-up.

I don’t imagine there’ll be any voices raised about ticket prices at Old Trafford this weekend. Moreover, if it wasn’t for the momentary cock-up between Szczesny and Koscielny that cost us the Carling Cup final, I very much doubt we’d be seeing any protest marches.

In fact, as much as it pains me to see the ordinary working man, woman and their offspring priced out of their beloved pastime, after shouldering the large burden of the beautiful game for a century or more, with 40,000 still on the waiting list at the Arsenal, most economists might argue our season tickets must be underpriced.

Meanwhile, as the clamour for le Boss to bust into the club’s coffers reaches a deafening crescendo, I’m not nearly so bothered by specific comings and goings as I am by the prospect of suffering another stagnant summer. If Sunday’s defeat and the resulting lap of dishonour was telling in one respect, it’s that the constancy of our squad hasn’t resulted in the determined team spirit one might expect from a group of players that have endured the same Groundhog Day experience together.

Instead, the lack of turnover manifests itself in the complacency that accompanies our stars’ security of tenure, so long as we keep our snout in the Champions League trough. Either it’s the carrot of Arsène chancing upon players with the personality and experience to inspire those around them, or the stick to cure such smugness with a P45.

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