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Loyalty, love and legend - how do Arsenal fans perceive our players?

When it comes to club football, loyalty, love and legend are all somewhat intertwined (and all begin with the letter L, incredibly). It’s natural to feel that club legends are loyal club-lovers, and likewise that displaying loyalty and a love of the club and can turn you into a legend.

Unfortunately, that’s a medium-sized load of bollocks. Of course all 3 traits – loyalty, love and legend – are sometimes related, but nowhere near as much as you might believe. This is due to some additional factors which play their part and can contrive to cram the whole arrangement into a food processor. The most important of these is success, but length of time at the club, leaving the club (and the manner of) and a few more also contribute.

Ultimately, since the whole issue is hugely psychological – who we believe is a legend, who we believe believes they love the club, etc - the conclusions drawn in this article don’t necessarily have a sound scientific basis, and the results should be regarded as largely tentative. Also, the sample size for my poll was fairly small, which can often skew the data, but still I feel there are some interesting insights to be found nonetheless. I’ll let y’all decide.

This whole minor comment piece/small investigation/dissertation/magnum opus came about due to an uneasiness I’ve always had when it comes to fans’ (mine included) opinions on player loyalty, so we’ll begin what is a loose collection of insights here. Player loyalty has been a massive issue for us over the past few years – with key players leaving almost every summer – and I think it’s fair to say that loyalty (or lack of) is one of the most prominent attributes we discuss when talking about these players.

When we talk about those who played for Arsenal during the previous successful period, however, we tend to focus on the positive qualities they brought to the team, rather than their loyalty. This is only natural, of course, but it was this which initially prompted my uneasiness.

Let’s say Player A comes to a team, plays a key role 3 trophy-laden years and then leaves. In this case they may not be hailed as loyal but they would be considered, by and large, to have ‘done us a service’, and though we would be disappointed at their exit they would be likely be fondly remembered for their part in our victories.

However, if Player B comes to a team, plays a key role for 3 trophy-less years and then leaves they would more likely labelled disloyal, since they disrupted our efforts to build a winning team and did not stay to help take us to the next stage – a trophy win.

I will now state some assumptions I believe to be generally true:

  1. It is much easier to be loyal to a successful club.
  2. It is difficult to judge the loyalty of those at a club during a successful period since it is impossible to know if they would have stayed had the club been unsuccessful.
  3. The longer a key player remains at a club during an unsuccessful period they more they could be said to have displayed loyalty during that period.

With that in mind I would say that, while it is impossible to accurately judge the loyalty of Player A, I believe that Player B has probably displayed more loyalty during his 3- year stay at the club. At the very least, I don’t think Player B could be said to be any less loyal than Player A.

But is this how we see it? Not really.

The below graph shows the percentage of people who thought a player loyal against the years they were at the club (sorry if the all the graph colours and axes are muddled, I had very little time to put them together):

Now while all 4 players were at the club for a very short time, and none are considered particularly loyal, the difference in perceived loyalty is still pretty large. This, I believe, can be explained by how successful their respective periods were, as the below graph shows.

This is perceived difference in loyalty is, I believe, unfair, and especially harsh on Flamini, who was a utility player for 3 years, before a year of 1st team action in his favoured position, and only left at the end of his contract to join his favourite boyhood club. I’d argue that Overmars and Petit were probably less loyal to Arsenal than Flamini, but they are not perceived to be so. 

Another group I would like to compare are contains 3 far more prominent figures in our recent history: Vieira, Henry and Fabregas, captains all. It always seemed to me that Fabregas was a little hard done by in the loyalty stakes, and despite Vieira and Henry’s standing in the history books I think that our Spanish no.4 was, by and large, very good to the club that made him.

Let’s take a look at the years’ service/perceived loyalty graph for these 3:

Here we have 3 players, all at the club for a similar amount of time and playing a significant and a comparable number of games. Now, Henry’s perceived loyalty is way above the other two – possibly influenced by his return but I think he’d be as far ahead as he is without it – but Vieira’s is still double that of Cesc’s. This is the same Vieira who threatened to leave, more than once, during the most successful period in our club’s history, and then joined Man City and became an ambassador, versus someone who held the team together for large portions of a 6 year barren spell and left only to join his boyhood club. His boyhood club where he played before he came to us, in the notoriously close-knit and nationalistic Catalonia region, with good friends now enjoying considerable – and unparalleled - success in that same team.

Now, I’m not suggesting Fabregas was the most loyal player Arsenal have ever had, or that there wasn’t something disrespectful  about the way he engineered his move, but less loyal than Vieira? I can’t see it myself.

I’d personally question whether or not he was really that much less loyal than Henry – I certainly don’t see him as only 1/6 as loyal – but perhaps that’s just me. Age and success definitely play a factor in this assumption (Henry already a legend and last chance to win a CL; Fabregas nurtured at the club and just entering his peak years during a barren spell) but it’s worth remembering that Henry left us after 2 consecutive trophy-less seasons, Fabregas after 6. Vieira left after a year in which we won a trophy.

The motto here? The more trophies you win the better chance you have of being considered loyal (by and large).


And expectedly, this is also true for legend status:


Before I go, here are the complete findings from my survey, in order of perceived legend-status from left to right, and including perceived loyalty and love for the club:

 A few things immediately stand out:

  • Vieira proves that you don’t need to show loyalty or love to be considered a legend.
  • A lot of people still believe Fabregas loves the club, even if they don’t think him loyal. Which I think is true.
  • You are generally perceived to be much more loyal and have much more love for the club if you haven’t left yet (likewise leaving impacts your perceived loyalty). Arteta has only been here 2 years and he’s considered more loyal than Fabregas and Vieira!
  • Henry is the absolute king of everything (which we already knew).
  • Someone believes Flamini is a legend. Bless ‘em.

I might return to this data at a later point but since I’m off to Morocco next week I wanted to get this out before I left - sorry if it feels a little incomplete. I think an even larger survey is probably required to obtain some more meaningful insight but I might wait awhile before asking you all to re-enter the same information. Or maybe I won’t....


Also, for the record, I won’t be using Survey Monkey again since I couldn’t export the results without paying £24 and had to enter everything into Excel by hand like some sort of... um... survey monkey...

Thanks for your time and I hope you enjoyed this rapid fire, haphazard investigation. Sorry if it was structured as illogically as an Arsenal wage bill.

Till next time.


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