The Emirates stadium theory of arsenal’s underachievement

I support Arsenal. Although we haven’t won a trophy since a somewhat undeserved FA Cup in 2005, I don’t have a big problem with these trophyless years. We had seven ridiculously good years under Arsene Wenger, so now the bar has been set very high indeed, leading to dissatisfaction that we don’t win the league on a regular basis.

Rather than digress into a post about whether or not we should be annoyed at having no trophies for eight years, I thought I’d suggest a reason why it’s happened that doesn’t seem to get discussed in the media.

Arsenal’s barren patch has coincided precisely with our move to Emirates Stadium. It was a move that had to happen if we were to continue to compete financially (and by extension on footballing terms) with the biggest clubs in Europe, but it has also come at a price as far as the team’s performance is concerned. I believe there are three main reasons for this:

The first is physical: the new stadium separates the fans from the pitch in a way that didn’t happen at Highbury. This means that the effect of the crowd is lessened and the home advantage we used to enjoy has been reduced.

The second is historical: the old stadium had years of familiarity behind it. People stood or sat with people they knew, the players understood how to work one of the smallest grounds in the top tier, and it was ours in a way that Emirates is taking time to match. For the first years of Emirates’ existence we might as well have been playing in an away stadium with greater support.

The last is the most important: the support. Highbury held around 38,000, whereas Emirates holds around 60,000. The new supporters are not going to be the most hardcore fans (they would already have been going to Highbury), so we now have another 15,000 or so (I’m leaving out away fans for simplicity) of the lesser fans. Now, I’m not saying that these are uninterested people, especially as I’m one of them, but there is an obvious and constant dissatisfaction from the spectators whenever anything goes wrong. Is that down to the dilution of the level of fandom or just the fact that the team isn’t playing so well? Within that point is the added corporate and neutral fans: there are now a lot more expensive tickets sloshing around for people who might just want to see an entertaining game of football, but are never going to sing about Arsene Wenger’s magic hat, or even give a chorus of ‘Red Army’.

A friend told me he was once watching a live game that we were winning by some margin at half time, but he was surrounded by a large group of foreign people who didn’t cheer any of the goals and killed the atmosphere dead. During the break he decided to leave and watch the rest of the match in one of the local Arsenal pubs, which he enjoyed much more.

I also imagine that many of those extra fans are people who have watched only since the great years of George Graham and Arsene Wenger, so they won’t have lived through more than the odd season where we weren’t at the very least in the top four. So they expect greatness, but it’s not a God-given right, and intolerance of errors does a great job of bringing the team’s confidence down. Do you want the crowd on your back for misplacing a pass that could have been great, or would you prefer the silence that accompanies a safe tap to a nearby teammate? It won’t make the difference for every decision, but it might just reduce the momentum enough to turn a win into a draw or a draw into a defeat.

I know Highbury wasn’t the loudest stadium on earth (indeed, it was nicknamed The Library), but when I sit watching games, a lone singing voice in my block, I do wonder what effect we’re having on the confidence of a team that drops the ball, sometimes literally, with alarming regularity. Very good new signings arrive and soon begin to display those signs of nervousness. How can two men who have 100 caps each for Germany be so prone to mistakes and lack of drive? Where is the Vermaelen of old? And why has tippy-tappy around the 18-yard line followed by an ineffective cross become the norm?

Sorry if you’re not into football (if that’s the case I’d be surprised that you got this far). If you are I’d love to know what you think, and has anything similarly inadvertent happened to harpoon the confidence of your club?

Comments 23

  1. Scamp wrote:

    Ben I think you need to move to a different block.

    Posted 24 Feb 2013 at 11:03 pm
  2. ben wrote:

    You mean in the stadium, right?

    Or is that a euphemism for entirely changing my outlook on life?

    Can’t really change seats, alas. Feel like a bit of a dick singing on my own, though.

    Posted 24 Feb 2013 at 11:18 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    You can find an interesting financial times article here:

    Posted 24 Feb 2013 at 11:28 pm
  4. ben wrote:

    I have read that. It is very interesting and worth an entire post on its own.

    Supposedly we have big money but don’t spend it. Then Arsene says of course he’d spend it if the right player comes along, but they seem to come along with alarming regularity for other teams.

    Posted 24 Feb 2013 at 11:33 pm
  5. dave trott wrote:

    Two words (IMHO): David Dein

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 9:18 am
  6. ben wrote:

    Do you mean he caused the problems, or we need him back?

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 9:28 am
  7. boot1947 wrote:

    I’m a season ticket holder at Fulham and started supporting them when they were in the Third Division. We slither near relegation and generally end in mid-table obscurity, but we just shrug. It’s just how Fulham is. When we reached the dizzy heights of the Premiership (again), we attracted a bunch of glory-hunters who came with unrealistic expectations. Turning The Cottage into an all-seater stadium didn’t help. I specifically sit at ‘the singing end’, but the people in our ‘posh seats’ are mostly silent (and ridiculed for their silence). The statue of Michael Jackson is always good for a laugh, though.

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 10:20 am
  8. Anonymous wrote:

    Being a bit of a stoic I find people being passionate about anything a bit weird. And grown men being passionate about a group of ther men simply because they wear the same coloured shirt, frankly disturbing. Not in a gay way.
    IMO Football will eat itself.

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 10:27 am
  9. Mister Gash wrote:


    Not about to get into a CFC vs AFC thing here. Lord knows – it’s not easy being a supporter of either team right now.

    But did Highbury really frighten other teams? In the way that – say – Anfield, Goodison, The Brittania do?

    I’ve never been to Anfield – but mates who have been say that the noise generated by 40,000 fans singing TOGETHER is genuinely awesome. And an important goal being scored results in celebrations that literally shake the whole stadium.

    I remember being at Highbury watching AFC vs Coventry (don’t ask me why) and laughed as two away supporters realised that the place was so quiet that they could make enough noise between them to actually be heard across the whole stadium. They had a ball for about 15 minutes. Then stewards came across to tell them to be quiet!

    Stamford Bridge is not the noisiest stadium in the league. But everyone knows that – if Roman gets his way and we move to a 75k barn in Earls Court etc – the influx of Japanese tourist fans, extra corporate etc – will work against us.

    We’ve had enough ‘inadvertent harpoons’ in recent years. Not sure we need (yet) another.

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 10:48 am
  10. Or, wrote:

    you could move to a new stadium (mufc) and win a small handful of trophies for the first time in 40 odd years. All admittedly via ludicrous player spending.

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 10:53 am
  11. Original Richard H wrote:

    Dave means we were better when Dein was sealing the deals, spending that little bit more than Arsene wanted to when necessary (If that FT article is to be believed).

    I don’t know where you sit Ben, but Block 9 isn’t short of singers (although one of the blokes who sits behind me would still moan even if we beat Spurs 4-0; perhaps he’s one of the spectator types you mentioned?)

    To be honest, I could never afford to go to Highbury until about three seasons before the move to the Emirates. Then I managed to get to 8-10 games a season, usually stuck up the top of the (proper) North Bank, freezing as we drew 0-0 with Sparta Prague on a Wednesday evening or something). So I guess I fall into that ‘glory years’ trap.

    It took six years of waiting to get my season ticket, so when I go to a game I have a habit of shouting myself hoarse.

    I have witnessed the silent block phenomenon, though. Sitting above the away fans is usually pretty quiet – seems to be full of little kids with their Dads who are desperately trying not to swear at Mike Dean. They also refuse to enter any debate about the career of the current Spurs manager’s mum.

    I think your distance point is a good one, but I’m surprised just how loud it can get at the Emirates; the Bayern game was a good example where Gooners made a lot of noise even when we were playing pretty poorly (although the Germans are fantastically vocal and well coordinated chanters – may be they were an inspiration).

    I’d also agree that there are a good proportion of moaners in the crowd. But I’m not sure it’s down to the increased numbers (and a corresponding higher proportion of negative people). I just think a lot of Arsenal fans have short memories. Every club has lean years – most of the 80s for us. Nobody under the age of 30 will really remember that. And if I look at the moaners in my block, not a lot of people over 30 seem to remember it, either.

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 11:27 am
  12. AdamT wrote:

    I don’t support Arsenal so I am quite pleased that they are proving to be a disappointment yet again.
    AW seems to be falling into the trap that gets us all in the end (Ferguson excepted): you don’t get crap as you get older, you just forget how hard it is to be good.

    I think a proper mercurial talent would do wonders though. A young Ronaldo rather than a young Arshavin. Bale has become that man for Spurs, and has deflected much heat from AVB.

    All clubs are starting to suffer from the silent prawn sandwich brigade, so I’m not sure that is a major factor in your demise. United, Chelsea and even Man City have the same thing to a greater or lesser extent.

    Thanks for RVP though. He’s really good.

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 12:52 pm
  13. john p woods wrote:

    Good players can play anywhere. Don’t delude yourself that the fan is the 12th man. If you are looking for assistance try getting the ref onside.

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 1:20 pm
  14. dave trott wrote:

    Original Richard H is right about my opinion of David Dein.
    If Wenger is John Hegarty, Dein was Nigel Bogle.
    Arsenal kept the style (good move) but lost the guts (bad move).
    Remember Dein hired Wenger, and Henri, and Viera, and Pires, and Bergkamp, and Ian Wright.
    Wish there was a David Dein at West Ham.

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 1:40 pm
  15. ben wrote:

    Well, Dein is now in bed with Usmanov (and let’s not forget that his son is the agent that engineered the moves of all Arsenal’s recent departures). Is that what we want?

    Possibly. I imagine anything is better than silent Stan, who doesn’t seem to give a fuck. At least Dein provided friction for Wenger at board level. Wenger actually hired Gazidis, so no one will sack Le Prof and he has barely any pressure from AFC to improve.

    The again, are we entitled to be bigger than we currently are? Look ar the mess Liverpool are now in, or Spurs, who haven’t won the title since before The Beatles were formed. Perhaps we have nice problems. It could be worse. We could be Stoke.

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 2:11 pm
  16. john p woods wrote:

    A star team is better than a team of stars. Blending the top players with the kind of players that don’t get the recognition is key and they are all thin on the ground these days. There is no magic wand, there never was. Could this be something that’s been lacking for quite a while at the Arsenal

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 2:37 pm
  17. WTF wrote:

    I think the sea change is more fundamental and more of a sporting nature… The way the game is played nowadays is different. Wenger inherited a team that had a real back bone and hard edge, the back 4 were as good as you’ll see. He then overtime tried to make the team more technical and physically smaller with his ideal being forced upon the club. Beautiful “ole” football followed but the trophies did not, the prem is different than most other leagues, British teams press, continental teams don’t as much (see the Milan Derby last night). His vision is wrong for the prem and his lack of respect for the domestic cup competitions is where the failings start and finish. With the correct tactics you could play on Hackney Marsh and you’d get the right result. Simples.

    I hate Arsenal

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 3:14 pm
  18. Bill Kay wrote:

    Expansion of Old Trafford hasn’t hurt the team’s performance – despite the addition of a load more corporate boxes.

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 4:21 pm
  19. Toast wrote:

    My thoughts:

    1. We were always moaning cunts at highbury, the amount of stick Kevin Campbell took was awful

    2. Financially we are the 4th strongest team in the country, 2 above are subsidised and 1 is loaded with debts. We finish at the top of our spectrum each year.

    3. We have been spoiled. We probably have the 2nd biggest amount of idiots who support us after Man U. Jesus the fuckwits we get on 6-0-6. We are not cunts, Chelsea have that one locked down, but we have a lot of idiots.

    4. We waited 18 years before 89, and 18 before 71. Spurs are comparable when have they challenged for the league?

    5. I can’t remember, Chelsea are cunts, spurs are cunts, we are well run, most clubs would give their left bollock to in our situation. Man city and Chelsea are both one person getting bored away from being bankrupt. David Ellary is a cunt, it was well over the line, she wore a yellow ribbon, Nasri is a cunt, we’re Topside, we’re topside…

    Posted 25 Feb 2013 at 8:15 pm
  20. Mick G wrote:

    City won the league in a new, soulless, corporate-box filled ground.

    Your argument, much like your defense, is flawed.

    Posted 26 Feb 2013 at 3:11 am
  21. ben wrote:

    Pathetically grateful Citeh fans, 40 years without a Championship, would have been less inclined to be intolerant of their team’s failings.

    In addition, their team was assembled with many hundreds of millions of pounds more than Arsenal’s.

    I believe it is you, sir, whose argument is flawed.

    Posted 26 Feb 2013 at 9:23 am
  22. john p woods wrote:

    If Arsenal can’t compete financially then they’ll just have to start thinking more creatively of how to win some silverware. Btw I don’t think for one minute that Birmingham have as much at their disposal and yet they outwitted the ‘mighty’ gooners in the league cup final.

    Posted 26 Feb 2013 at 10:35 am
  23. Mister Gash wrote:


    For what it’s worth, CFC would not be bankrupt should RA slip away. Those financials have been resolved. Not saying that we wouldn’t rock a bit. But bankrupt? Not quite.

    Posted 26 Feb 2013 at 12:20 pm

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