Acrimony at Arsenal is a wound that must be healed before next season begins

It may have been painfully dull and dangerously predictable but, in the end, it was three points and another clean sheet – both of which were sorely needed.

It’s difficult to find any praise for the means that brought about the end because it was very poor fare for large parts, but there was so much going on yesterday that the football was largely overshadowed by events taking place off the pitch – within just a few yards of it, in fact.

The much-publicised ‘poster protest’ took place as promised but, in truth, it was poorly supported, with only sporadic pockets of posters and signs held aloft at the allotted times – in the 12th and 78th minutes.

In midweek, I wrote about the dangers of a half-hearted protest, and how it may in fact drive a wedge further between two very distinct groups of fans – the WOBs and the AKBs, with the remaining fans caught in between.

In response to the ‘Time for Change’ posters, many fans chose to sing ‘One Arsene Wenger’ and some even held up banners of their own, in support of the boss. It was very much a mixed picture and showed the world just how divided and confused we are as a club and as a group of fans.

There will always be a difference of opinion among supporters – and so there should be – but what showed up above all else yesterday was the sheer level of acrimony that is swirling around the Emirates like a storm of plague-ridden death wasps.

People who are supposed to be pulling in the same direction and fighting for the same cause have accrued a very obvious level of dislike for one another – to the extent that some are happy to resort to violence and abuse.

This cannot be the way forward for the club.

Did all the histrionics and unrest play a part in what we saw on the pitch? It’s difficult to be sure, but my suspicion is that it did.

Even by the standards set in recent weeks, Arsenal were unusually poor. It was all very slow, ponderous, and lacking ideas. Nobody was able to get a hold on it – to a man they were flat and, it seemed, going through the motions.

They were just waiting for something to happen, against a side fighting like lions for survival and barely yielding an inch.

Time and again they just passed, and passed, and passed, to the point of utter madness. There was no invention, nobody willing to take a risk. It would not be unfair to say that we were lucky to be level at the 55-minute mark. But for the good work of Petr Cech, and some wasteful finishing from Norwich, we would have been behind and staring at the Europa League.

As it happened, we did to Norwich what typically happens to us. With our first shot on target, we scored. It came from Danny Welbeck and, based on the three minutes he was on the pitch alone, he deserved it.

He brought some energy on to the pitch where there was none, he added drive, determination, willingness to run. Why it needed a substitution to bring all of that about, I have no idea, but thank god that it did.

When Alex Iwobi was the man sacrificed to make way for Danny, and not Olivier Giroud, there was a chorus of boos and Twitter was ablaze with contempt. In the end, it proved an absolutely crucial decision from Arsene and one which he should be rightly credited with.

It was the badly out-of-form Olivier Giroud who provided the knock down for Welbeck to smash home. It may have been more or less all he managed in 90 minutes, but it was crucial nonetheless.

It scarcely bares thinking about what would have happened if we had not secured the three points. A stadium already simmering with anger may well have boiled over – that’s how bad it feels right now.

In the run up to the game, Arsene spoke about the difficulty his side have had in playing at the Emirates, and the ‘hostile environment’. Yesterday may well have been the very manifestation of just how badly affected a team can be by anger pouring down from the stands.

There was a good deal of fortune about the victory, but it was badly needed. Looking ahead to next week’s clash at Manchester City, the three points gained against Norwich provide a crucial buffer to the lurking Manchester United who, thankfully, could only manage a draw against Leicester.

Perhaps some time away from the Emirates will give the players a chance to re-focus as the season nears its end, and they may even look at the two-point gap between themselves and Tottenham and dream of usurping their North London rivals – bringing about the merest scrap of consolation for hard-pressed fans.

For many, however, even that small victory will not be enough. The rancour that has set in around the club is not going away any time soon, poorly-supported protest or not, and there is some serious work that needs to be done to heal some very deep, festering wounds.

One thing is certain, the acrimony has got to go. The wounds of this season must be healed over the summer, and everyone must come together again. If the contempt and division linger on in to next season, there is no telling how bad things could get.

 

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