We all love Arsenal for their beautiful game. We love the passing, we love the movement. We revel in the sheer joy of a swift Arsenal counter-attack that leads to a glorious goal. Ok, Ok, so the counter attack goals have all been against us since the Theo Walcott run in the Champions League, 2008. The fact is, where all of Britain slags off the Arsenal and how they can only play beautiful and have no Plan B, or are just a bunch of sissies, we applaud it, and support it through thick and thin.
Now imagine that it's the Champions league group stage. And Arsenal seems to be sitting back more. Felipe Melo has been bought, and Arsenal sit deep with Melo and Song protecting the back four with their lives. They still have more possession than their opponents, but they pass along the back four most the game, and it seems, well... dull. But they win, and progress.
There are few supporters bemoaning Wenger for the 'boring' and 'dull' approach in the CL. They claim this Arsenal side lacks invention, and abandoning his theory of beautiful football, the football we have grown to love. But the rest of us point to new-found defensive solidarity. "Look at the clean sheets! and we still have over 50% possession!" They can turn the beauty on when other sides decide to play against us, just wait and see!"
So the playoff legs come, and the Round of 16 is more of the same, with a comfortable win against a lesser opponent. In comes the Quarter-finals, and the powerhouse Internationale come to town. Fans are reveling in the prospects of this potential classic matchup, but those other supporters predict a boring, cagey and defensive game. The game begins and Inter look a shoe-in to win the tie with some very suspect defending at the back, and a wonder save keeping the game close. No not Almunia. Only a 2nd half coming back wins the tie, all thanks to a freak own-goal. Most post-game chatter by Wenger on how the team is playing well, despite not playing the typical Arsenal way, which is pass-pass-pass it into the net. Supporters are elated that such a strong team has been beat, but still fear their beautiful game is a thing of the past.
A semi-finals versus surprising Athletico Madrid comes next, and the fans can taste the finals. A screamer of a goal seems to have the tie in hand, but Diego Forlan has other Ideas. It's another cagey match in which Arsenal capitalize on a couple headers from the unlikely sources of Nasri and Walcott, but a late goal in injury time conceded give the fans a nervy ending the the game.
The finals is versus Barcelona. On paper it's a mouth-water game. Two club notorious for their beautiful passing game, for the speed at which they can attack, and from a history of great players playing for their club. Every begs for a classic game that these two sides could ideally produced. The Arsenal blogs however are fret with how we will play the Catalans. Will we try to out pass them? Seems highly unlike since the Gunners haven't done this the whole Champions League. Sit back and hit on the counter? Or press high anddeny space? The worry of beautiful football is in the background - but with the thought of Silverware of this magnitude, one we have never won - those worries are left there.
The much hyped final arrives, and Barcelona start on the front foot, pressuring Arsenal in their own half, carving out chances. After near-goals, Wenger decides that sitting back is madness and attempt to press Barca all over the pitch. However, Arsenal players seem to struggle with the pace and movement of the Catalans, and Melo should've seen red. Cards are flying everywhere, mostly to the Gunners, but the score remains tied. The 2nd half comes and and Arsenal should've scored, but somehow contrive not to. Extra time is needed. The commentators are slagging the Arsenal players for their late challenges, and 'thuggery,' condemning them for the exactly same tackles that they applaud and defend by clubs like Stoke and Birmingham. The irony comes when a dive decides to bring Arsenal to 10 men, and Barcelona manage a goal shortly after to win the Champions league, and the Arsenal players and fans alike in tears.
In the aftermath, the media is full of Barcelona praise, and full of criticism of Arsenal's brash and hard tackles. They question what happened to the beautiful game Arsenal used to play, and how it got to intentional fouling to keep up to Barcelona.
The Arsenal fans meanwhile, they ask amongst themselves this. Was reaching the finals and being one unlucky break away from winning the title worth sacrificing THEIR style of game? Their style of game, in which they were beat with? Do Gunner fans sit and stand proud at how their club fought to the death, and almost accomplished the ultimate goal? Or do we sit with heavy hearts at being sooo close and losing both the title game, and their image in the world of football?
Now all you do me a favor and replace the Arsenal in this story with the Dutch.
This is the strife of a Dutch Arsenal fan.