Billy’s Soccer Beat
Fans of London’s red-wearing northern club simply can’t catch a break in European competition. Once again, after a convincing advancement to the knockout round, Arsenal has gone down, this time to French side Monaco, currently the 4th place team in Ligue 1.
While Monaco is certainly a solid team, with a lot of world class players (no doubt related to the deep pockets of France’s city of billionaires) but they are hardly a club with the reputation of a team like Arsenal. Being the most popular club in a city like London comes with its burdens, but also its advantages. The 60,000 plus that pack the Emirates for each and every game are clamoring for a trophy, as they have seen just one, the FA Cup last season, come to the club since 2005. With Arsene Wenger nearing two decades at the club, many fans are wondering if their French savior has lost touch with the English game.
Nonetheless, Arsenal has bowed out once again in Europe, and the fans are left hoping that they will have better luck next year.
While it’s easy to point fingers at Wenger, or even the players, many diehard Arsenal supporters will simply reference the ground on which the club plays: Emirates Stadium. From 1913, the club’s first season in North London, Arsenal played at a ground called Highbury, a traditional English stadium, built initially with three open air seating areas and one covered terrace, and affectionately named by the club, “The Home of Football.”
After the Second World War, the stadium was remodeled due to damages caused in the London bombings, but by the 1960s, the stadium was in full swing and considered amongst the best in England. While the official capacity remained at 57,000, over 60,000 could be crammed into Arsenal Stadium for big matches, making it one of the largest and most raucous crowds in all of Europe. As a result, the Gunners brought home a number of trophies in the 70s and 80s, further raising the profile of the club.
Following the Hillsborough disaster of the early 1990s where a number of fans were killed in a trampling incident in a standing room only section in England, the FA decided to remove standing room only sections from football grounds. Thus, Arsenal’s famed stadium in Highbury was reduced from a 60,000 supporter capacity to just over 37,000. With reduced attendance, European games were moved to the larger Wembley, and Arsenal became one of the most difficult tickets to get in all of English football. The reduction led Arsenal’s owners to examine a new stadium, and thus Emirates Stadium, the 60,000 seat capacity ground where Arsenal currently plays, just 500 yards from the original Highbury ground, came into fruition.
In one of their final years in Highbury, Arsenal produced the “Invincibles,” which many fans consider the greatest Premier League side of all time. Arsenal didn’t lose a single game that season, beating out Manchester United for the top spot in England, and signaling a changing of the guard in English football.
Since their move to the Emirates, Arsenal remains unable to replicate those sides, and has been chided by fans and media alike for simply “playing for fourth,” not caring about trophies, and only wanting a spot in the European competition. With the loss to Monaco, it seems Arsenal fans will have to wait another year for their European dreams to realize, though many wonder if their squad in its current makeup can take them to the promised land. While I am typically not one to believe in stadium jinxes, the Arsenal Plague seems all too real, with the red-clad fans of North London clamoring for a return to trophies, to “Invincibles,” and to Highbury.