Arsenal took on Schalke '04 in their third group stage match of this season's Champions League today, going down 2-0 on a pair of second half goals. It was not a good performance. On the weekend they lost on the road to Norwich City, the Canaries' first win of the season no-less, 1-0. It was not a good performance. In fact, you could go so far as to say Arsenal's post interlull performance has been downright rotten. But I don't want to talk about today's game, I want to talk about how we as a fanbase react to such poor showings. It is not a good performance.
I converse regularly with a group of friends from around the world who came together through an old comedy site we used to frequent. When I moved out on my own and into a situation where I'd be able to get FSC and start watching the Arsenal every day, I talked with some of my English buddies about my reinvigorated interest in the professional game and was promptly asked, "So, which big four team is 'your' team?" Let me first say that I do think it's a bit on the unfair side to criticize foreign fans for flocking to the big clubs for a number of reasons, most notably that they are the ones who've done the most to establish a foreign presence and that it is (well, was) hard enough finding consistent chances to see the top sides in action, let alone falling for a club only to see them banished to the Championship where a Yank in the pre-streaming days would have no hope of seeing them play. With that said, that doesn't change that having your say of which massively successful side to support in a sport where parity does not reign supreme is a hell of a luxury.
I don't take losses of my sports teams well, as the blue in the blog's title implies. I invest myself to an unhealthy amount in their performance, and for my whole life the day the Steelers are eliminated from the playoffs has been a day those around me have known it's best to let me stew and sleep it off. In recent years, the days Arsenal go out of Europe or suffer title crushing results in the league have joined the list as well. I'm a moper, and a pouter, but I always am able to realize one thing at the end of the day -- I'm extremely lucky to be in a position to view those disappointments as failures. I have three sports that can control my mood, and I am a fortunate SOB in each. When I chose a football team to love forever as a small child, I was fortunate to pick one which has made the Super Bowl as often as it has the playoffs this millennium with three each. When my sister's then-boyfriend, now-husband, took up MMA with his brother and I dove in headfirst again, I was lucky enough to find myself supporting two men who proved themselves capable of fighting their way to the very top level of the sport. And yes, when my family came home from England when I was a child and brought me a jersey as a souvenir I was pretty damn lucky it was an Arsenal shirt.
And this is where we're spoiled as American fans. We have a sports landscape where, for our biggest sport and to a smaller degree the others, we are offered parity. A landscape where even the lowliest of sides can turn things around in short order, because ultimately things are set up where inequity is minimized as often as possible, and a team can make themselves the best purely on the back of sound personnel decisions to build the strongest side. But the world of footie isn't the NFL. It's the MLB, only with more imbalance of finances. Much is made every season about Arsenal opening the purse for once, and it's true that there's a decided imbalance of funds-in versus funds-out. By Transfer League's calculations, Arsenal's profited more off player sales since 2003 than any team in England's top two tiers save for Watford. In fact, Arsenal's average yearly profit over that time is more than the total profit in the same period for 30 of the 43 clubs in the top flights. Simply put, turning a profit is what Arsenal do.
But you know what? That is what we do, and have done for some time, and that doesn't change the fact that nearly all of those 43 teams' fanbases would still gladly trade results with us over that period. Have there been times we were one or two big transfers from hardware? There probably were. Just like there were times, as recently as two seasons ago, where we were probably one or two fewer injuries from the same thing. But every team is only X big transfers away from a title, and they don't make them either because all a club can do is everything within its power to win the way that club is set up. Arsenal's set-up does not include being a big spender in the transfer market, no matter how much we may want it to. At some point, when season after season we follow the same policy, it's time to accept that's the policy of the club. Love it or leave it, that's how the team we choose to love is run.
And that's fine. Arsenal want to win, and do their best to put out a side who can win, but we aren't ever going to be spending with the big-money clubs when a big name comes on the market. We're not the Yankees, we're the Tigers. We can't match the big guns, but on the whole we still have money on our side. Winning won't come as easy for us, but it's not out of the question either, and when it comes that will make it so much sweeter. And until that day comes, at least we will be among the few who are lucky enough to get to hope we'll win at the start of each campaign, and know that we don't have to sweat out goal difference on the final day to maintain our place in the league, let alone Europe or Champions League.
Besides, even after these totally-catastrophic results, this end-of-the-world scenario, here's how things stand. We're two points farther from our league leaders than the mighty Madrid. We're two points closer than two-time-reigning German champions Dortmund. We're in better shape in Europe than both of the oil-rich English clubs. This past week has sucked. Our play has been bad. But these players aren't bad, and the club isn't bad, and for that let's all just take a step back from the ledge, take a deep breath, and be grateful that in a few days Arsenal will again get the chance to go out and make us forget it in a match where they are again large favorites because, at the end of the day, we are a fortunate group who support a world-class club.
This is cross-posted from my new updated-when-I-have-something-to-say Arsenal Blog, Red & White (and Occasionally Blue)