Arsenal: We bottled it but I don’t care

Mikel Arteta acknowledges fans after the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Emirates Stadium on May 28, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

It’s 9 a.m. I’m sitting in my dark bedroom alone half-way across the world, hungover, watching our inevitable collapse. Accepting that Arsenal’s ingrained nature of self-destruction had remerged.

This time it was to be different. Well, temporarily, at least. The collapse was to come. But for now, this dimly lit Canadian morning was to be saved by one man: Reiss Nelson.

Not that I have to explain it to any fan reading this, but the teams were tied 2-2. Arsenal had managed to pull it back from 2-0 down against bottom of the table Bournemouth with 20 minutes to go.

Those 20 minutes quickly dwindled down to seconds. Endless balls ploughed into the box to no success. Then, a corner came. Nelson, having barely played a minute all season, stood on the edge of the box, waiting, knowing his time had come. The ball fell to his feet and he dutifully curled it into the corner.

The laptop was gone.

So was any sense of me trying to keep it down for my clueless housemates. It was delirium. Running round the room like a child, screaming as if my own had been born. The wild celebrations at the Emirates reflected in my bedroom. Maybe this was to be it.

It wasn’t.

In the space of a few weeks, Arsenal would throw it all away. But right then that didn’t matter. I still had that day. Watching endless reaction videos throughout it, each one slowly filling myself with more joy. Searching for the Peter Drury commentary to poetically soothe my soul.

I still had that Man United game. Eddie Nketiah bouncing me around the room like I was 10 years old.

I still had that Spurs game. Singing and dancing in a Vancouver bar at 8 a.m. amongst similarly minded strangers. The identity of my fellow embracer unimportant. Our faltering finish still haunts me but it lives far less present than these memories.

Mikel Arteta’s detoxifying Arsenal revolution

Football has, at times, had these special moments for me. But it has never felt so united, so hopeful and positive than the past season. A testament to Mikel Arteta’s influence. Himself arriving at the height of toxicity. Existing in that toxicity. Being a victim of that toxicity.

His ability to reunite the fanbase with the club has been remarkable. To give us something to feel proud of. How can you not? When you see Bukayo Saka’s joyous smile beaming back at you, the only possible reaction is pure love.

“It’s f*****g unbelievable.” A rejuvenated Granit Xhaka remarked to BT Sport back in November. He’d just beaten Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, the pure passion and roar of the away end leaving him in awe. Watch many of the past season’s post-match interviews and you will often find the players remarking on this ‘atmosphere’ and how it fuels them.

It feels years away from the hate-filled final days of Arsene Wenger’s reign. When every game was peppered by constant arguments among fans, or abuse towards a man that had done so much for the club, even if he had slightly overstayed his welcome.

Testament to this changed feeling at the club was the reaction to Wenger’s return. ‘There’s only one Arsene Wenger’ ringing out from the 60,000 fans against West Ham, the only game I made it to last season.

Happier times and a bit of perspective allowing supporters to truly appreciate the man and what he did for the club. No longer clouded in angered short-term memory. Now, united in appreciation of a team that feels, for once, connected to its supporters.

Of course, the idea that multi-millionaire footballers are in any way connected to regular punters is slightly deluded. But watch Oleksandr Zinchenko driving through the streets of North London, singing away at passing supporters, and tell me it doesn’t feel that way. That this isn’t something different, something fixed between player and fan.

This isn’t temporary

So, even though we bottled it, and let’s be honest, we did, I don’t feel bitter. Or angry. I don’t go into this season living in regret. I go in grateful. Grateful that I have those memories, that I don’t go into games fearing the poisonous atmosphere it would descend into.

It’s hard to explain to other supporters or pundits who will willingly write us off as one-season wonders, that this doesn’t feel temporary. Because it is just that: a feeling.

The past season was just a feeling. A feeling of togetherness, of connection. Not something measurable but still a feeling that something was being built. And, in my head, it still is yet soon to be measurable.


Come back to me in a year, after another bottling, and we’ll see if I still feel so wishy washy. Until then, let’s go and bloody win something.