04 October 2015

Open Letter to Manchester United

What happened to us? By "us", I mean both clubs. While it's true that you've had a bit more success than we've had in the Prem, I think we'd both agree that neither one of us has lived up to our historic reputations. Even if we at our end admit that you won the Prem in 2013, there's got to be a bit of soul-searching around our current status. If anyone among us could locate Liverpool, we could put our heads together and wrap minds around what's become of the Prem.

At our end of things, it's been a story of status quo. Same manager, same results. Year in and year out, we find our way to fourth place and all that comes with it. At your end, it's been more of a hodge-podge. Three managers in two seasons and almost as many transfers in as your irritating neighbors to the east. There was a time when Arsenal-Manchester United was a clash of titans, the kind of fixture that shook the firmament. I'll admit that we've struggled to uphold our end of the rivalry, but there's something else lacking from this.

Even as Arsenal has seen its stock slump, we've comforted ourselves with the knowledge or notion that we've earned, more or less, our status. Put another way, we haven't rented it in the same way that Chelsea or Man City have. Year after year, we've fought the good fight only to console ourselves with the fanciful philosophy that it's better to fight hard and fall short rather than to spend senselessly and succeed. From 1989 until 2004, there was a period during which Arsenal and Man U went toe-to-toe whilst other clubs watched on in awe at our shared dominance—a dominance that shifted, I'm sad to say, towards you at Manchester and away from us in London. Since the advent of the Premier League in 1992, you bastards have won it 13 times to our three.

Still, it's always felt like we were bonded, Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker, Sauron to Frodo, in a way that other upstarts couldn't ever transcend. Chelsea? Man City? Who the hell are they? As an American, I don't put much stock in pedigree or bloodline, but there's something to be said for class and for quality. Those upstarts might represent the worst of the nouveau riche, but I worry that Man U have succumbed to the same siren-song as those soul-sucking charlatans. You've been spending and splurging in a style that makes Abramovich envious and Mansour mutter. Caveat emptor, mate. If you scorn Man City as we scorn Chelsea, don't adopt their tactics. You're better than that—or at least you should be.

Despite my Gooner-dom (Gooner-itis?), I'll always respect Manchester United as home to some of the last one-club players we're likely to ever see. For as much damage as they did to us, Giggs and Scholes represent the last embers of a fiery era in which players fought for the badge on their chests, not the signature on their cheques. Something in me still thrills to the blood-sport of Winterburn-McClair, Vieira-Keane, Keown-Nistelrooy, or Wenger-Ferguson. The rapid turnover of the modern game all but eliminates these epic clashes. Are we worried about Depay and Martial? Sure. Are you concerned about Alexis and Özil? I'd reckon you are.

However, all four of them are recent arrivals to their respective clubs and feel more like mercenaries than the Myrmidons of myth. Whatever Sunday's result may be, it's hard to resist the notion that the legendary days are gone, that there will no longer be any mythic clashes as there once were. I'll be first in line to admit that Arsenal failed to hold up its end of the bargain, but I'll also be first in line to ask why Man U were so quick to abandon its end. Come what may on Sunday, we can still point rightly to a consistent commitment to principles. For as frustrating as that's been at our end, it still counts for something.

Of course, I'll happily take a positive result from Sunday's clash. See you on the pitch...