As opening weekends go, that was pretty good.
In fact, it was better than pretty good. It was phenomenal. Surely one on the best that we’ve ever seen. From Brentford’s season opening triumph over Arsenal on Friday evening, through to Tottenham’s much-deserved victory over the defending champions on Sunday afternoon, we were treated to a stunning return of Premier League football. 34 goals over 10 games, with a few sumptuous Goal of the Month contenders to enjoy already (even in defeat, take a bow Luke Ayling).
Full stadiums, deafening noise, a sea of colour, heartfelt passion, thrilling action – it’s been a long wait to see football we all recognise again, but it was worth it.
Something else is also prevalent during the opening weekend of a new season too, and this is 100% supporter driven – overreaction. It always been there, but has intensified over the last 15 years with the rise of social media. It’s remarkable how many people seem to judge their team’s success or failure in the season to come by the result of the first weekend only. It’s as if everything rests on the outcome of match one.
The case of #artetaout is just one example. Within minutes of Arsenal’s defeat at Brentford on Friday evening, the campaign to oust the former Gunner from the managers seat had gone nuclear. The odds had been slashed on him getting the sack. Fans were in total uproar. The season was a disaster waiting to unfold in front of our eyes. Even Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, got involved, tweeting that the club “must not excuse or accept mediocrity”. The grumbling has now become geo-political.
But how many teams would have gone to Brentford on Friday night and turned them over? Not many would have fancied it. The sheer ferocity and passion on display at the Brentford Community Stadium was a sight to behold. The capacity might only be 17,250, but it felt like there were four times that many people crammed into the place. It was a cauldron of electric atmosphere. Brentford also played extremely well. As I mentioned in our Premier League season preview, any team that takes Brentford lightly does so at their peril.
Arsenal are in a transition phase, everyone knew this before the season started, so a loss on the opening weekend does not warrant such an over-the-top response. Were Arsenal going to be challenging for the Premier League title? No. Were they, in all likelihood, going to be challenging for a top four finish? No. Some Arsenal fans had such a kneejerk reaction to this defeat. Yes, you didn’t play very well. Yes, your defending was suspect. But this will happen again, and again, until your club stabilises, galvanises and settles under the manager. Sacking him after one match has the opposite affect, and you’ll be back to square one.
This issue arises in victory, as well as defeat. The hoopla surrounding Manchester United’s 5-1 victory over Leeds United is remarkable. Suddenly, they’ve gone from a team battling for a top four finish to being champions elect. Again, the atmosphere at Old Trafford was palpable on Saturday afternoon. You could feel it through the TV screen. Manchester United played very well indeed (at home, I might add) and Leeds were below par. Bruno Fernandes continued his excellent form from last season and Paul Pogba finally did what he should have been doing for the last five years – play well for Manchester United. Has this one match turned them into world-beaters? Of course not. They are far from the finished article. But to read some comments on social media over the weekend, you’d think the Premier League trophy had already been decorated with red and white ribbons and was being FedEx’ed to Manchester today.
Watford won handsomely over Aston Villa, so are they now sure to survive in the Premier League? Certainly not, just as Norwich are not doomed to be relegated after a single loss to Liverpool. These things can of course happen, but let’s not get to overjoyed or despondent after 90 minutes of football.
In the opening 12 matches of 2020/21 Premier League Season, Manchester City won five, drew 5 and lost two, including an extraordinary 2-5 trashing at home by Leicester City. Not a very impressive start under the great Guardiola, in the eyes of some fans and pundits. There was even some grumbling about Manchester City suffering from ‘offensive struggles’. Eight months later, they were lifting the Premier League trophy for the fifth time, having won the league by 12 clear points. It’s funny how teams can turn things around.
Sport has an extraordinary ability to pull emotions out of us like no other form of entertainment. We live and breathe every second of action as we follow the highs and lows of our team. It means so much to us. Nothing else creates the same level of drama, excitement and anticipation. And when the day finally comes when our team lifts to trophy, we feel unbridled joy. We’d also feel unmitigated sorrow should they be relegated. These emotions are perfectly understandable but let’s keep them in check for now.
Give a team at least ten games until we start casting judgement, or praising too highly.