Arsenal and City have developed something of a loathing for one another in recent times and how they go about their business is entirely different, but it’s the relationship between the two sets of fans which is the most interesting to look at and there appears to be genuine hate on both sides.
Arsene Wenger has talked at great length about how the club needs to comply with the soon-to-be-implemented Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules that UEFA are looking to press on with from the start of next season. It’s been the Frenchman’s saving grace, his light at the end of the tunnel for quite some time; a return to the days when money wasn’t the be-all and end-all and the manager’s ability had just as big an impact out on the pitch as a chequebook did.
Over at the Etihad stadium, Manchester City have spent £54m again this summer, to go on top of the £76m the year before that, the £154 the year before that and the £125 the year before that. They flaunt their money around; everyone knows they have it and so clubs demand top-dollar for the players that they want. It has led to the whole market becoming distorted not only in terms of fees, but importantly wages too.
From their perspective, though, it was all required in the short-term in order to play catch-up to the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the league. They simply didn’t have time to wait around and build slowly, particularly with FFP on the horizon, they needed to make the club an attractive proposition for future world-class players and in that regard, they’ve done excellently.
Seeing the youtube clip of the two sides mincing about the tunnel on and off before last weekend’s game at the Etihad, the one point that stood out for many was Gael Clichy being ignored by Arsene Wenger after the left-back glanced over his shoulder only to see Wenger walk right past him without even acknowledging his presence before saying to Joleon Lescott “it’s only been nine years, right?” in reference to how long he played under his former mentor at Arsenal. In a snapshot, it displayed how deep-rooted the animosity between the two clubs is and it’s more than had the makings of a very modern rivalry, much like Chelsea and Liverpool did a few years back.
Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor and Clichy have all moved to the Etihad for reasons ranging from money to silverware, while Robin van Persie came very close this summer despite eventually opting for Manchester United instead. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Wenger sees these players as having abandoned his project, his philosophy and his methods just at a point in their careers when he demanded loyalty from them given their success out on the pitch considering all the years he’d spent shaping them into the players they have gone on to become. He feels let down, and to an extent, he’s perfectly entitled to feel that way.
When it comes to the fans, though, the two sets clearly hate each other. Arsenal fans resent becoming a feeder club to Manchester City for their top talent and seeing them profit from their scouting network and emphasis on blooding these players into their side only to see them leave once they become established. They hate that City are so rich and are willing to spend whatever it takes to get a player, the complete opposite of the way that their fiscally prudent club is run. They view City as the brash, arrogant new kid on the block and there’s certainly a sense of bitterness that comes with it.
Both sides it has to be said, have fairly legitimate criticisms of the other, but Arsenal would hardly turn away a billionaire in the form of Sheikh Mansour if he wanted to invest in the club, while City have had more than their fair share of heartache and lean times over the years, so there’s also the prevailing sense that they should be allowed to enjoy their period of glory, they’ve been waiting for it long enough.
Football is a game where tribal instincts dominate and grievances are aired in public, but both sets of fans seem to have become embroiled in a never-ending tit-for-tat. Sure, they couldn’t be more different at the moment, but that doesn’t mean one is absolutely right and the other wrong. Issues like this are rarely black and white, but one club’s financial muscle and the others insistence on a moral hierarchy being attached to style of play has led to a fractious relationship between the two that shows no signs of going away any time soon.
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