As we plunge headlong into the stinking marshes of the Interlull, we at least are attired in the waterproofs of victory over Newton Heath this Sunday last. Typically overconfident, a hubris embodied by the hilarious predictions of the Manchester United Twitter following. They were, as followers of my twitter account will know, were surmising that victory was theirs, it was just a matter of precisely what the margin would be. One can imagine how faces dropped in the United heartland of Guildford when Orwell and Saunders started dancing through their ranks at will. Within the time it took to make and consume a decent Martini and smoke a Sobranie Black Russian, our foes had been comprehensively obliterated. I know this for a fact because that is precisely what I was doing at the time.
If self-harm is appealing, then Arsenal are the nation’s sweethearts. How could anyone deny their status as the continent’s entertainers? We are Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe. Don’t hate us for our frailties, cherish us for them. Don’t mock us, applaud us. Arsenal produce performance art of which no other club in the competition is capable. We are the chaaaaaaaaaampiooooooooons of self-destruction. We are Homer Simpson taking cannon ball after cannon ball to the gut. You want to cuddle us, clutch us to your bosom and look after us and tell us everything will be alright. But you can’t because you don’t want to lie to us.
Arsenal’s commitment to the absurd, (and sometimes, with the right set of eyes, our defensive setup from setpieces looks like a piece of installation art) produces a kind of mania in us, the supporters too. I scanned my twitter feed on the train home from the Olympiacos performance (and performance really is the best word for it) and immediately saw 6-7 theories for the team’s European Cup malaise, which, by now, stretches back many years. Somebody asked me whether the installation of Santi Cazorla as captain was in some way responsible for the latest episode of Cirque du Arsenal.
I initially rebuked the man’s theory, but fuck it? Why not? Because the proliferation of theories put forward for Arsenal’s acts of European self-mutilation just serve to demonstrate the extent to which none of us have a clue why this keeps happening. I know that I don’t. The team are perfectly capable of shooting themselves in the foot domestically. But there can be no doubt that Arsenal save their headline acts for the Champions League, where the hilarity is condensed into linear episodes. It’s like watching an HBO boxset. You’re guaranteed action in every episode. In most seasons, the cliff hanger doesn’t appear until episode 7-8, but this season, Arsenal seem determined to fast forward the suspense.
I am talking of course of the veritable hara-kiri that Woolwich inflicted upon ourselves against Olympic of Athens this Tuesday last. It is an annual part of being an Arsenal fan. Much like the spitting out of one’s cornflakes when the announcement of cash reserves is detailed in the newspapers; St Totteringham’s Day; Vieira Saturday, which always comes some time in early September when a ridiculously avoidable defeat happens because we failed to control the midfield; or the end of August festival of Nostrika, when we are informed that no strikers were available to purchase with clockwork regularity.
This depressingly familiar loss ranks alongside such Arsenalesque classics that we recall with an almost wistful nostalgia such as losing to that team of Greek part timers, PAOK Salonika, whose initials stand for Perhaps Arsenal Ought to Kneel. Last season’s revolver-to-the-temple 3-1 loss to a Monaco side who were so poor they should not only be banned from all of that Principality’s wonderful card rooms but publicly hanged. PSV Eindhoven. The 0-3 reverse to Sciatica Prague. 2-0 away to Duisberg over 50s. 1-0 to Antwerp Ladies. 3-1 at home to Lippstadt Wednesday. I may have made some of those up but you get the point. Truly, we are the Stoke of European football; occasionally something comes off, but on the whole, a poor, dismissible, shabby, apologetic excuse of a team. Unless of course there are points for guineas in the bank. In which case we are world class.