Arsenal are an easy team to love, and an even easier team to hate.
I still remember the first time I ever even heard of the team, around March/April 2010 when a London based friend took a picture of a TV screen with Arsenal losing on her Facebook wall. The comment was followed by a string of profanities. The team name fascinated me, much more than the generic "United" or "Sporting" or "FC" named teams that seemed to dominate the sport from my limited exposure. I did a quick search and the first hit that came up on Facebook wasn't even Arsenal's team page. It was a fan page titled "Arsenal's empty trophy cabinet" and mocked them for not winning a trophy in 4 years.The vitriol spewed at the team on the page was astounding.
Now I was used to American sports, where even proud franchises could go decades between titles. Anyone being mocked so viciously for 4 years without a trophy was doing something very, very right in my book. Especially when I looked up the recent decade of relative success for the team.
So what makes the red team from northern London so easy to both love and hate? Both sides are quite easy to see by how quickly I fell in love with the team. That same May 2010 I flew to London to visit friends. It was the last game of the season, and I ended up at an Arsenal supporters pub by chance to watch it. The atmosphere, singing, joy and pain of the fans was contagious. These people really, truly loved their team.
I did more search on the team right before the World Cup and found many reasons to love it as well. It was a team with an old, proud history of playing in the first flight. They had good years and bad years and gritty years. The most recent successful years were the ones that jumped out though. The team not only won, they won with finesse. They weren't just going to beat you, they were going to keep going after you and attacking and playing the beautiful game as beautifully as they could. They had an intellectual based manager in Arsene Wenger who I took to as well, due to his fascinating back story of Monaco success, exile to Japan, and triumph return to the top flight. This was a team that did no believe in short cuts, like the Chelseas of the world, or blatant thuggery like other teams I won't name but you can imagine that resorted to cynical fouls and deep defensive strategies. This was a team that didn't overspend, get in debt, or live outside it's means. It bought players others had cast off or were young and shaped them to be top footballers. He wanted to create art. It was a team with grand vision.
You can see why this led to so much hate. Teams that dream big, just like people who dream big, are often sneered at and are targeted for abuse by those with more cynical tastes. They hated not just losing to Arsenal, they hated the superiority complex of the fans who were not just better than them but "classier" too in the artistry of their victories. Even in rough years, when Arsenal lost players, the dream survived, of playing world class football with carefully molded talent and within financial means, and those who wanted easy oil trophy's or ruthless tactics cheered, waiting for Arsenal to fall. Even Arsenal's own fans give the team as good as opposing fans do, as many are dreamers that want to see the team not only win but so the "right" way, the Arsenal way, and not by becoming those who hate us.
Traveling across the world and the Internets has brought me in contacts with Gooners of all stripes and sizes. Many hold vastly different opinions on Wenger or our transfers. But one thing in common I've found in many, like me, like Arsene, are dreamers who want, in their heart of hearts, to show the cynics and naysayers out there that they are wrong. That winning the battle, or a trophy, in of itself is not enough if such a reward can be bought by the highest bidder. And when the team, due to luck, or mismanagement, does not live up to those ideals we feel betrayed by putting our trust out there for the cynical cold world to see.
That is why I feel the media and other fans spew more hatred at Arsenal than any other team in the league. You don't see it for mid-level teams like Aston Villa or Swansea or even Liverpool (although they get plenty of derision for misspending money and resting on passed laurels). You don't even see it for the money teams like Chelsea and Man City. It's so much more amusing to tear down those with lofty ambition than just winning games. But for those of us who can't help it, it's worth the pain of naked emotional exposure. Because if you ever do reach those ambitions, the victory of reaching the ideal you set out for is even sweeter than the mere victory itself.
That's why we support Arsenal, even in dark times. That's why I'll continue to, if just for the chance to one day prove all the haters and cynics wrong.