Empathy for Arsenal and Chelsea Supporters

The cliche line is that football (i.e. soccer) is a funny old game. In truth though, it can be a sad and very cruel game. I’ll explain why in a moment.

If you’re a Manchester United supporter today, you’re probably feeling on top of the world. If you support Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham or Liverpool, you probably feel gutted. But truth be told, none of teams in the upper half of the Premier League played well Saturday except for Newcastle United and Stoke City. Maybe it was the international break. But whatever the reason, Manchester United moved one giant step closer to winning the 2010-2011 Premier League title Saturday by creating a 7 point lead at the top over Arsenal and moving 11 points away from third place Chelsea. Both the Gunners and the Blues have a game in hand over United, but even in a best case scenario for Arsenal and Chelsea where both teams win their game in hand, Manchester United would still be 4 points and 8 points ahead of their neighbors. Manchester United’s lead seems insurmountable.

Watching the matches yesterday, I felt frustrated. In the Arsenal match, I wanted the Gunners to win to keep the race for the Premier League title alive. But despite the number of chances they created, they missed that final touch or perfect header. Robin van Persie was particularly to blame for wasting golden opportunities near the front of the box. But so too was Jack Wilshere who had the best chance of the match to score but hit his shot well wide of the goal.

In the Stoke City against Chelsea game, it was a far more entertaining game than the one at the Emirates but again, it was a frustrating one with both teams missing wonderful opportunities to score. Stoke City, especially, had so many chances in the second half but they too were missing that final touch. Chelsea had their chances and could have won it. But all in all, it was another frustrating day at the office for Chelsea especially after they already knew the result of the Manchester United game from earlier in the day.

That brings me to the main point of my article. After watching Wales last week get slaughtered by England in the Euro 2012 qualifier, and after following the minute-by-minute commentary on BBC Sport to see Swansea suffer a loss against the bottom place team in the Championship (Preston) which dents their automatic promotion hopes, I know what it’s like to feel – as a football supporter – completely depressed, devastated, frustrated and ultimately powerless. The past week is just a microcosm of life as a football supporter, but the reality is that being a die-hard supporter of a team can be a very trying and emotional experience. Watching games, you’re willing the ball to go into the back of the net or hoping your player makes the right move and shoots the ball where you think it should go. But they often don’t, and hit the ball directly at the keeper or sail it over the bar.

To be honest, it stresses me out at times. The highs are high but the lows are very low. And the reality is that none of us have any control over what unfolds before our eyes, whether it’s on television or in person. We are at the mercy of something that we have no control over. We may like to think that we can help teams win by wearing our lucky shirt, or carrying out some strange superstition. But as soon as the referee blows his whistle to kick the match off, we are simply passengers along for the ride.

During Swansea’s dark years near the bottom of the Football League, I still followed the team but I developed a weird way of dealing with their results. When following Swansea’s minute-by-minute match text commentary on BBC Sport, I would often switch it off if they went 1-0 down, thinking that they would never come back and that it would lessen the pain. Oftentimes they wouldn’t come back to draw or win and would lose. But if the final result ended up being a win, which was seldom the case, the final result would have exceeded my expectations and I would be pleasantly surprised by the victory. Being pleasantly surprised was far better than suffering the pain and agony of watching a minute-by-minute text commentary update itself every 60 seconds or so.

Watching your team frustrate you in person, online or on television are all nerve wracking experiences. Even more frustrating is the realization (which the players know too, of course) about how close your team is to victory. Seeing Arsenal tied at 0-0 with 20 minutes to go against Blackburn should be a positive moment. There are 20 minutes remaining where all the Gunners need is one goal. But the agony of seeing a team come so painfully close to scoring but the goal failing to get into the back of the net is a sad, even cruel, experience. To make matters worse, you have the TV cameras capturing the emotions by showing images of fans biting their nails. Or, even worse Saturday, showing an elderly woman almost in tears wearing Arsenal colors, or a child supposedly so overcome with the result that he hid his face from the game by holding on to his father, only for the child to turn around, as the camera zoomed in, to show that he was in fact smiling and laughing. What an awkward moment that was for the father as he smiled and laughed too.

Arsenal and Chelsea’s seasons are far from over yet. Chelsea supporters will comfort themselves in knowing that they’re still in the Champions League. And they still have to go to Old Trafford in the league. All that Arsenal have left is the league. I believe that most Arsenal fans, by now, realize that the team is not good enough to win the league this season. It’s still mathematically possible. Manchester United has to go to Emirates Stadium. But given the performances by Arsenal of late, it’s evident that they’ve run out of gas. The best that both Chelsea and Arsenal can hope for is that Manchester United will begin to stumble between now and the end of the season and drop valuable points. But even in a game like the one we saw yesterday, Manchester United has that power to bounce back from adversity and win games against all of the odds. They were helped by West Ham United’s deplorable defending yesterday, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s West Ham United or Blackpool or Aston Villa, this United team seems destined to win the title. And I think we can all admit, even die-hard Manchester United supporters, that this United side isn’t one of the greats. But what they do have is a powerful self-belief and enough quality players to bounce back.

It’s time like these when football supporters begin talking about next season and how that’ll be different. Sometimes it’s the only thing we can do to lift ourselves. Next time will be different. Right?

When facing frustrating games or devastating losses, how do you cope with the pain and adversity? Share your stories in the comments section below.

32 thoughts on “Empathy for Arsenal and Chelsea Supporters”

  1. As a chelsea supporter, i feel a bit relieved. Stoke was the better and had some very good opportunities . We were a bit lucky to get a point. Cech was exceptional . Personally, even if chelsea is third or fourth in the EPL but win the UCL, i will feel that this is a successful season. However going forward, if we are to aim for the treble, we must improve our sqaud depth and mental stability. We tend to be very inconsinstent and ancelloti must do somthing about this. We should also get our stike force figured out and give more time to youngsters of loan them out. Sturridge is doing very well at bolton. He is one for the future.

  2. The more forces wanting the London clubs to do well, the more fervour and force we (red devils) will go marching on. 31 games into the season, sick of people saying we are not playing well and we may be. If we are not and top of the league what to make of the London poopers? Worst? All the 3 games you mentioned, we showed passion, belief and desire. That alone won’t be enough as almost every English club does. We also showed skill to go with it. Vidic’s header against AV, Bervatov and Hernandez against Blackpool and Wayne against West Ham. So shut it. And watch us getting our 19th.

  3. As a Gooner I’m already looking towards the future & hoping that there is a partial clearing out of those players that just dont cut it in the EPL.

      1. Yes he is one of the players that has got to go. Kos is another I think should go & obvs Almunia should be relieved of his “duties” & sent packing.

        1. Kos, are you kidding me?
          They say it takes a year to get adapted to the Premier League, and considering Kos was actually thought to be a bench player (nobody expected Squillaci to be THAT much of a failure), he’s done really well despite a few obvious blunders (Yes you can blame the cup final on him), he definitely is not at 100% yet, however remember how he dismantled Messi in that first Barca leg!
          Definitely keep Kos, a great back-up player once Vermaelen is back.

          Get rid of Denilson, Bendtner, Diaby (yes, I’m sorry, but he’s an all-rounder that cannot fill any of those roles satisfyingly), Almunia obvz, sell Fabregas for 50 million, and SIGN A REAL GOOD HOLDING MF, EDEN HAZARD, AND AN EXPERIENCED GOALKEEPER (for until Szczesny becomes world class, which he will),
          then I might forgive Arsenal for f**king up yet another season.

  4. Do you feel empathy for the Arsenal fans that left yesterday’s game with 5 minutes left to play? Do you feel empathy for Chelsea fans that have only been fans since 2003?

    1. I can understand why some fans may have left early yesterday. Why prolong the agony when it’d be easier to leave before the end and spend time drowning your sorrows with alcohol or doing something different? Even if Chelsea fans have only been supporting the team since 2003, they suffer a similar pain and agony as we do. We may have supported teams longer, but the pain still hurts.

      The Gaffer

      1. Both sides had more than the point to play for still! Chelsea were still attacking during the six minutes of extra time that were played, Arsenal were playing against ten men. Given their apparent superiority they should be able to score at any moment against ‘little’ teams like Stoke and Blackburn.

        An Arsenal fan called Talksport last night and said one of the things that Arsenal need to succeed is an atmosphere, he called for the middle class johnny come lately Arsenal supporters who have tagged onto his team to piss off if they weren’t going to make the effort.

        Chelsea fans were pretty good yesterday, some good retorts to teh Stoke chants.

        Can’t wait for the Arsenal game in May, we can get beat 5-0 but the abuse that Wenger and his gnomes will get will be immense. I’d gladly pay twice the ticket price to witness the mauling they’re going to get from the crowd at the Britannia.

          1. And I’m sure you can qualify that comment Jamie by saying that you’ve been in attendance at the Britannia Stadium when that miracle occured? Surely the Arsenal nickname should be changed from ‘The Gunners’ to ‘The Librarians’? If only to reflect modern times whilst simaltaneously paying homage to Highbury, and acknowledging their links to the past.

    2. I am sure you were there in the early 1900’s to be able to lay claim to the title of “#1 Freakin’ True Fan!!!” I’m beginning to see the flaw in the thinking that the only true fans are the ones from the beginning. If you think ManUtd fans are any less bandwagon-jumping than the others, then I suggest looking at history and their payroll. Nobody roots for ManUtd for any other reason than to feel good about their desolate lives, devoid of any self-esteem that could make them comfortable in public not being “The Winner.” Which, I might add, makes SAF’s incessant whining about the officiating especially sad, because they’ve won it all and they are still as graceful as a three-legged mule.

      1. I actually can qualify that comment by saying I was there when that happened. Im not trying to slight the Stoke fans by saying they dont sing as that would be naive, they are brilliant and I loved the atmosphere, Im simply saying that away from home you get the “true” Arsenal fans, if you will, who sing throughout the match and quite loudly! Even over the tele you can here them! Trust me I am well ashamed of the home support in modern times.. I miss Highbury. When I can make it to a match its normally only my one section singing unless the team is up…

        1. Fair play Jamie. Heard a good point about the Arse on the radio today, if they can’t get themselves up for the ‘challenge’ of a game against Blackburn (no disrespect intended) in order to stay in the title race they will never win the title.

      2. Earl Reed said:
        Nobody roots for ManUtd for any other reason than to feel good about their desolate lives, devoid of any self-esteem that could make them comfortable in public not being “The Winner.”
        Me thinks your boot is too deep down your throat. But I get your message though let’s be honest, there’s all types of fans. I’d hate to hog-tie all fanatics to your cynical definition except that it does offer the best explanation of Chelsea fans.

  5. The reason manchester United continually come back after a disastrous first half is that they have a manager, Ferguson, who is able to rally his players. Rooney praised Ferguson’s half-time talk for their revival. Managers do matter. You hardly see a United team making the same mistakes game after game. Yet, Arsenal does. Wenger may be brilliant at getting his team to play a certain way that is pleasing to the eye but he just does not have what it takes to rally his team. Chelsea have the better players than both United and Arsenal but they don’t link up well as a team. Ancelloti hasn’t been able to get his team to play total team soccer. Too many egos on the Chelsea team.

  6. As an Arsenal fan who watches every match, there was a point in yesterday’s game where I realized that it was going to finish 0-0. It was a weird feeling where I knew even with plenty of time left, that Arsenal were not going to get it done. I’ve seen it too many times before already. It was sad really, I understood that it wasn’t going to happen. They honestly don’t have what it takes.

    Hate to say this, but Man Utd get it done when they need to, almost every time. 2 nil down at half on the road and they come back and put 4 in the net in 45 min. To win trophies you have to win games like that. While I believe Arsenal’s top 11, minus the goalkeeper and centerbacks, are good enough to challenge.If Fabregas is on the bench, and we can only bring in guys the likes of Bentdner and Chamakh then we don’t have a chance. Man Utd can bring in Berbatov, Chicharito, Nani, to come in and win them games. Arsenal lack that ability.

  7. There’s another football cliche that fits perfectly into this piece and applies to both United and Arsenal. It’s that championship sides take points from games that they shouldn’t be taking points from. United has now done this three times on the road this season and stole 6 points at the death against Wolves and Bolton at home. And although Arsenal avoided a monumental failure against the Baggies two weeks ago, they still don’t have that go-for-the-throat killer instinct that United seems to switch on regularly in squeaky bum time.
    The race isn’t over yet, but with United getting healthier by the minute the Gunners are faced with a pretty tall task.

  8. well as an arsenal/long time football fan, im pretty much used to the disappointment. when ever my team looses. i try as much as possible to take my mind off it, maybe get some rest and look to better days.

  9. Must be something in the Manchester water supply. Both teams were prolific in scoring 4 and 5 goals this weekend. Let’s hope we get an open game in the FA Cup semis. Looking forward to it.

  10. My dad always says games and seasons are rarely lost at the end and he’s right. with Arsenal I can think of the Sunderland games, Both NUFC games, the Wigan game, the Spurs game where they just simply gave 3 and 2 points away on games they should have won.

    Still one has to remember that you take Almunia and Clinchy off the team and the average age drops to like 22 or something. It’s an extremely young team and injuries cam at inopportune times.

    Another thing my dad always says in reverence to the latter is that championships are often won by trainers. the team that keeps its talent on the field the longest usually wins the league. man U has been healthier and had IMO veteran leadership to keep the ship righten during tough waters.

    I still think- although unlikely, the season is still in play. man U has like a game every three days for the next three weeks against top teams so we shall see.

  11. Doesn’t anyone think that Fabregas’ value is declining? I know the rumor is that Arsene scoffed at FCB’s $40 mil offer but isn’t that too high in reality? We’re talking about a player that plays maybe 20-25 games a season? Granted, he’s highly skilled but has been bitten by the injury bug once too often.

    1. I think you sell Fabregas and buy Sneijder. it moves a player that wants to be elsewhere and brings in a bona fide field general who knows how to win and knows how to play with RvP.

  12. Something wrong with Arsenal’s training regiment… their players go down with injury at a rate that is puzzling for it just to be bad luck.

    1. Must agree … for a long while, I thought it was because we were always being kicked, but for the last couple of seasons, there are many off-the-ball injuries.

      In addition to finding new players, the professor should spend the summer looking at what the hell is going wrong on the training pitch.

  13. I had £5 on Chelsea to win the league a month or so ago when they were 12 points a drift so even as a neutral I was gutted by what happened all day, first United coming back from 2 down then Chelsea failing to win, but I don’t think the title race is a dodo yet, not for Arsenal anyway, United still have to go to The Emirates and play Chelsea, don’t be surprised if the title race yoyo’s a few times between now and then.

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