As I followed the fortunes of both Arsenal and the New York Knicks this season, I realized I had seen this movie before. The two organizations struggled through campaigns that mirrored each other. Fans of each team have experienced similar trauma over the past decade and the similarities became uncanny this year.
The loyal, and sometimes delusional, support the teams receive is strikingly similar in large part because their home cities are both Meccas of their respective sports. The clubs remain some of the most valuable and well supported teams in any sport, even during barren periods without much success.
New York City is the largest city in the United States, with Madison Square Garden considered the most famous basketball arena in the world. London, similarly, is England's largest city and one of the world's greatest soccer hotbeds. The city boasts a staggering number of top club teams, with Arsenal being the most successful of the bunch, and the Emirates is among the world's most recognizable soccer cathedrals.
A sense of optimism ran wild at each side leading up to the season, largely due to the arrival of new signings. Arsenal had bought Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka and Lucas Perez, while the Knicks had acquired Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah.
Delusions of grandeur grew amongst fans when both teams started the year scorching hot. Arsenal rattled off 19 straight games unbeaten, leaving them second in the league and atop their Champions League group. More importantly, they’d appeared to have addressed concerns about their toughness with a series of late goals.
Concurrently, the Knicks began 14-10, which positioned them 3rd in the East. Fans were thinking title in London and playoffs in New York as the calendar switched to 2017. Then disaster struck.
Arsenal suffered through its worst stretch in the Wenger era, recently winning only 4 out of 12 matches. The Gunners have only just won consecutive games for the first time since January. New York's fall was more precipitous. After their strong start, the Knicks went 17-41 and finished with the sixth worst record in the NBA. They didn’t win consecutive games following December.
The similarities between Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Knick’s coach Phil Jackson are also tough to ignore. The two embattled leaders are even beginning to look alike. Both are intelligent idealists who are among the most successful coaches of all-time, but they’ve come under intense scrutiny this season.
Their tactics have been criticized as outdated and their reluctance to adapt to the times has smacked of arrogance. Two leaders who had once revolutionized their sports are now viewed as predictable.
Wenger recently played with a formation using three at the back for the first time in twenty years. His teams are notorious for trying to pass the ball into the goal rather than shooting from distance, and they always seem to suffer from needing to add to a one-goal advantage by extending it to two rather than protecting the lead.
Jackson, meanwhile, parades the Knicks onto the court with the burden of the triangle offense on their shoulders. The players sulk like children made to wear an outdated uniform. No other team in the league runs the triangle offense, as it is cumbersome and doesn't follow the trend of teams playing faster paced offenses and shooting more threes.
It wasn't long ago that signs of "In Arsene We Trust" and "In Phil We Trust" were common sights at the Emirates and MSG. Today, the pendulum has swung decidedly against the two. The once unthinkable occurrence of two of the most influential sports leaders ever being demonstrated against by their own fans is now a sad reality.
Fans have reserved some vitriol for ownership as well. Gooners have long been disenchanted with Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke, coldly referring to him as "Silent Stan" due to his unwillingness to address the public.
Knicks owner James Dolan is also notorious for his reluctance to speak publically and is regarded as one of the worst owners in sports. He recently further alienated fans when he insinuated that Charles Oakley, one of the team's most beloved players, has an alcohol problem after he had Oakley forcibly removed from MSG.
Finally, the similarities between the two teams extends to their best players: Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal; Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis for New York.
Ozil has been called lazy and Sanchez has been vilified for his petulant and almost selfish behavior. Porzingis is not a good enough leader, and Anthony has been called all of the above.
Sagas surrounding the stars’ futures have been extremely taxing as well. Ozil and Sanchez both have refused to extend their contracts and demanded large raises.
Anthony's future has been extremely untenable. Jackson bizarrely granted Anthony a no-trade clause and then proceeded to attempt to convince him to waive that clause so he could be traded. A trade never materialized, but Jackson publicly stated Anthony would be better off somewhere else. Porzingis skipped his exit interview to demonstrate his frustration with the chaos in New York, leading to speculation he wants a trade.
Seeing both teams simultaneously capitulate in almost the exact same manner has been too much to bear for the unfortunate group of fans who support both teams. Still, as is usually the case, both fan bases have found hope to cling to. The Knicks tanked at the end of the year to increase their chances of landing a top draft pick while Arsenal advanced to the FA Cup final in May.
If the Knicks move from sixth to the top-two in the draft lottery on May 16, the way these teams' fortunes seem to be connected, don't be surprised if Arsenal finds a way to beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final twelve days later.