It’s our next home game. The interlull is over at last and we’re playing Blackburn Rovers in the latest ‘must win’ game.
As the players emerge onto the pitch, the crowd at The Grove gives voice as one. It’s a visceral, emotional outpouring of passion, enough to make the hairs on the back of even Gladstone Small’s neck stand up.
And what are these 60,000 people (alright nitpickers, 57,000 people) chanting? It’s this:
“Manuel Almunia, Manuel Almunia, Manuel Almunia etc.”
Just contemplate the impact on our goalkeeper.
A week ago he was a broken man, shaking his head in disbelief and, one must assume, self loathing for his latest clanger (the goalkeeping equivalent of trying to execute a 180 on the M25 in rush hour).
But he will almost certainly be turning out between the sticks for the Blackburn game – and he must be dreading the reception he’s likely to get. The image comes to mind of a baby seal being asked to waddle into 60,000 Canadians armed with clubs.
But what if his reception was a massive outpouring of support? What if the whole home crowd really was singing his name (with fervour, mind; not with irony)?
The more I have thought about this, the more I feel it’s exactly what we, the supporters, should do.
You don’t have to love the man. You don’t have to want him in our squad next season. But when he steps out for us against Rovers you have to support him. You have no choice.
You’re an Arsenal supporter, right? You want us to win the league this year, right? Well you have to support the man in goal because he is playing for us and we need him to be the best he can be.
There’s no guarantee that a vociferous round of support for Manuel will make him less likely to make blunders – but it’s sure as hell got to be more helpful than booing him or cheering ironically, which will only dent his confidence even further with possibly disastrous consequences.
He doesn’t pick himself. If he’s not good enough that’s Arsene Wenger’s fault, not his. So when he steps out for us let’s show him that we are behind him.
It will also show the rest of the footballing world that we are the classiest set of fans in the country.
If you think otherwise, if you think that you would prefer to boo him then, and I do not use this phrase lightly, you are not a true Arsenal fan. If you want to try and damage further an already damaged member of the team I have supported all my life, with the likely outcome of making him even more error-prone with a consequent impact on our chances of silverware, then I can only conclude that, deep down, you don’t want us to win.
The nearly six years without a trophy seems to have produced a masochistic minority among our fan base, people who seem to get off more on the disappointments than the successes.
When we lose, they are the first to get online with an outpouring of rage against the players, the manager and the board. When we win, their silence is deafening – The Silence of the Shams, you might say.
If you really support The Arsenal and you’re going to the Blackburn game, then give your full support to Cesc and Song and Theo and Samir and all the rest of them. And above all, give it to Manuel.
Let’s lift the (nonexistent) roof off for our goalie.
He needs it and, who knows, it might just turn him into the ‘keeper who wins us the league title.