Amid the angst that has accompanied much of Arsenal’s close season and subsequent opening day defeat – some worries justified, other reactions overblown – it’s sometimes easy to forget that tomorrow will be a monumental day.
After 533 days, football’s back at Arsenal as it’s meant to be, with the fans given equal billing to the players.
Frankly, given its over-use for 18 months, the word ‘unprecedented’ can go whistle. But not having fans at grounds either at all, or only very occasionally and in tiny numbers, really was just that.
Get in the bin, canned crowd noise
Like most people, I found watching behind-closed-doors pandemic football a useful distraction as we all hunkered down to various lockdowns. But it wasn’t ever much more than that for me – and not just because of the gloopy football we served up. With no crowds, it was only ever half an experience and consequently, I only ever found myself half watching.
I know it was the same for all clubs, but it just wasn’t real. For example, what would the Emirates crowd have made of our pre-Christmas relegation form? What would the inevitably frustrated reaction have meant to the team, or to the manager? How will we remember the 2020 cup final in years to come, given there was nobody there? Would some of the lackadaisical and predictable attacking patterns have been altered in the face of a mutinous crowd? We shall never know.
But at last it’s back – and there’s no hiding place anymore.
Good times, bad times – you know I’ve had my share
So tomorrow is incredibly exciting. I’m as giddy as a middle aged man should be without it becoming a medical condition. I even bought a new third shirt, which is a sure sign that I’ve taken leave of my senses.
Yes, there are holes in the team, we have a rookie manager who’s still very much a rookie, and we’re still sniffing around to work out what our higher purpose really is – but blah blah blah.
Honestly, given the last 18 months I’m determined to see the bigger picture. Throw it all into the cauldron – the good, the bad and the ugly – and enjoy the ride. That’s what I’m going to do.
And there are positives – apart from just being in the stadium, which is the biggest one of them all. In Tavares, White, Lokonga, Odegaard and Ramsdale, we have five young, exciting players who will either start straight away or at the very least splash a bit of water in the faces of the current squad. We already have Tierney, Gabriel, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Saka – all young, all key. Xhaka, Partey and Pepe provide some experience for what is a very young squad.
I know it’s not fashionable to say it, because there seems to be a new narrative writing them both off, but in Aubameyang and Lacazette (if both stay!) we have two proven goalscorers who even last season – which was, let’s be honest, a total write-off – scored 31 goals between them. So they should have plenty to offer too.
So yeah, I can’t wait. Whatever happens tomorrow – and as first home games go, it’s going to be a baptism of fire – it will be great to be back.
Tune back another time to see whether my positivity holds strong in the battering wind of reality.