By Shane Thomas
After last Sunday's victory over Liverpool, things are a touch rosier in the Arsenal garden. However, that was in marked contrast to the mood amongst many fans a few days previous. Press reports swiftly emanated that Theo Walcott had decided against signing an extension to his contract with the club, which will expire at the end of the current season.
With days of the transfer window remaining, it seemed that Walcott would be the latest big-name player to depart from The Emirates, and the reaction from many Gooners - particularly on the twittersphere - ranged from weary resignation to explosive animus.
It seemed that the potential loss of another member of last season's starting XI, combined with two 0-0 draws to open this campaign, led a portion of the support to gnash and wail in frustration. Catcalls decrying Walcott as greedy, and even a traitor, were declared. Some lamented putting their faith in such players, when all they do is let you down.
And it is this mindset that got me thinking. I know that it's the players that often grab the headlines. They are icons of idolisation. Children pretend to be them when playing football in the park, they have their name & number printed on their replica shirts. They're figures of aspiration for anyone who's dreamed of becoming a professional footballer.
But while the near-deification of certain players is understandable, especially in a world that seems to revere the concept of "stars" and "celebrities" more than ever, it is a flawed way for a football fan to think. Put simply, if one's love for their club oscillates depending on the quality of the personnel, then Real Madrid would be (subjectively) worth more than Darlington. Well try telling a Darlington fan that the love for their club is somehow worth less then the love a Madridista has for theirs.
Every fan wants to see their club succeed, and the better the playing staff, the greater the chances of success. However, the level of support does not correlate with how many big-name signings the manager makes, nor should it ever. Buying a ticket entitles us to watch our team give everything in the pursuit of victory. But it doesn't entitle us to victory. I'm always curious to how much of the lamenting comes from supporters who assume that the Wenger years of constant trophies were the norm. I wonder if a similar thing will occur among Manchester United fans when Sir Alex Ferguson retires.
Arsenal is more than any player. It's more than the Emirates Stadium. It's more than Highbury. It's even more than Arsene Wenger. It's a sporting and cultural signpost. An entity that has an intangible and magnetic pull on anyone who truly defines themselves as a Gooner. I'm sure there are plenty of our fans who, as people, I would cross the street to avoid. But for 90 designated minutes, every one of us is brought together in a shared sense of community, all willing our club to show the best of themselves.
When done right, it's like one hive mind in perfect symbiosis. Anyone who was there for the great days & nights in the club's history; White Hart Lane in 1971, Anfield in 1989, and by the same token, Wembley in 2011 or Old Trafford last season. The sense of togetherness, in our most glorious victories, and grievous defeats, is worth more than any one player or contract negotiation. If you believe that Arsenal's worth is dependent on how much money they spend, then the club was clearly never worth a lot to begin with.
Arsenal stands for something more than wins and losses. And this must always be the case, no matter where the club end up. Players and managers will move on - even Arsene Wenger, but what the club means to all of us must endure. Supporting Arsenal isn't a matter of buying the merchandise, the match tickets, or reading enough newspaper articles to provoke discussion in the pub. It's an ingrained part of our very core, as much a part of our DNA as our hair colour.
So next time you find yourself handwringing over the latest player who thinks he can do better elsewhere, remember that your love should be solely reserved for the one thing that will never leave; Arsenal.
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