Opinion: Is AFTV killing Arsenal Football Club?
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Unrest and Arsenal are but by-words that have come to pass in recent seasons, a far cry from the years of success brought to North London under the Arsène Wenger era.  

However, as the Frenchman's years ticked on in Islington, so too did an uprise demanding change in the form of Arsenal FanTV, two histories inextricably linked to one another.

As perhaps the most notable legacy from the latter years of Wenger’s tenure in North London, AFTV - as it is now known - sprouted from just another social media platform to one that began to evolve into the relative fan juggernaut by which we now know it.

However, less than two years after the reign of the man who brought a golden era to the club in Wenger, the voice of the brand has become not just a soundbite, but a force for change.

In Arsenal terms, that same evolution has been essential, however as Wenger's successor Unai Emery now too finds himself a source of growing ire amongst the Gunners' fanbase, has AFTV become a menace that threatens to destroy the very thing it set out to save?

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AFTV birth

At its inception back in 2012, the intention of Arsenal FanTV was merely to become the latest football platform that had spurted from YouTube’s overflowing loins, aimed to be nothing more than a stage for those that shared a love of all things red and white in North London.

Interviewing club legends the ilk of Thierry Henry and Tony Adams, the quickly growing movement ingratiated themselves within the Arsenal faithful, with Arsenal FanTV as it was then creating a true community for those of that persuasion.

Steered by former surveyor Robbie Lyle - who quit his job to work on the platform full time - he was was joined by friends and associates in the form of Claudio ‘Claude’ Callegari, together with the more considered voice of ‘DT’, juxtaposed with ‘Troopz’ to mold a unique flavour that simply could not be found elsewhere.

Fuelled by vox pops from regular AFTV members that began to add new but recognizable faces - Ty, for example - that served as a regular post-mortems for Arsenal games, as crowds gathered after flooding from the stands as the usual post-match aperitif, with fans and particular members of the brand's alumni airing their views in a unique tone.

Boasting perhaps the most cosmopolitan fan-base in the capital, AFTV quickly mirrored that demographic, and as the growing critics of Wenger and Arsenal board grew from just mere whispers to the comparative banging of a drum, further droves were swept up in the furore built by the image of AFTV, as its' popularity soared.

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End of an era

By the time 2014 had come around, Arsenal's fortunes on the field had deteriorated rapidly and after finally falling out of the Champions League qualifying places in the final months of the 2016/17 campaign, the baying masses were demanding change. 

By now, AFTV were not only a trademark that had spawned a new wave of Arsenal fans, but that had unintentionally become a rich source entertainment for the casual football supporter, away from those with ties who would call themselves a 'gooner'.

With a growing tide having been whipped up to a near frenzy, AFTV could in many ways take credit for the eventual demise of their own fallen icon in Wenger.

After weeks, months and in some quarters years of a tidal wave of A4 banners protesting 'Wenger Out', the Frenchman announced on April 20 of that season that he would step down as manager, to ironic internal cheers around a still split fan-base - many who remained blindly in the corner of the man who brought glory back to Highbury and latterly Ashburton Grove, not least with three Premier League titles.

The power the brand still holds to this day remains a force, however, in its current incarnation, AFTV's sentiments contain a greater venom toward current steward Emery, as the fan-driven trademark threatens to split Arsenal in two like an atom.

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A poisonous precedent?

The voices and faces of AFTV have become beacons of hope for many, but their stance as idols is false.

Many branches of the media and players in particular have openly criticised the trademark's position of power, with suggestions that many were watching for the enraged rantings of DT, Claude et al, rather than taking any analytical standpoint on board.

Indeed, as the vitriol began to spill from the mouth of babes regarding Wenger, Gary Neville was one of the first to jump to the aid of one of former foes, whilst Hector Bellerin accused AFTV of profiting from the club’s failures, whilst in the same instance posing whether at a basic level they could even be considered fans.

Arsenal as a club have distanced themselves with any relationship, indeed it was rumoured in 2018 that a cease and desist letter was sent to the company, claims which later were falsified. Nevertheless, Arsenal FanTV were ordered to re-name themselves AFTV.

There are other issues to consider also. The club remains in transition of course after a period of such salubrious spoils, but the current ownership of Arsenal with the Kronke regime remains a source of anger for many a fan. 

Add that together with the sense that the Gunners have become something of a tourist club. One would only have to glimpse a billboard from the many tube station escalators at any given period of the season to see gazers be beckoned to visit the Emirates. Indeed a short a walk across the Ken Friar or Danny Fizman bridges - named to honour the former owner's legacies - would see many a tourist-induced selfie around the stadium environs.

These are rapidly becoming thorny issues. Fans of football clubs have a gentle obligation to stick by their side through thick and thin. However, with Lyle and co. appointed judge, jury and executioners without any real semblance of justification, their judgments take on an even more toxic aroma. 

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Emery out?

That brings us front and centre to the present day, with unrest off the field threatening again to spill onto it, as we have already seen with captain Granit Xhaka's disillusionment with his fans - now stripped of the armband - as Arsenal see their top-four hopes fade once more.

AFTV have more than a meagre responsibility to themselves and the club, but the brand's major players continue to endorse it as vital discourse in the footballing politics in the red half of North London.

To the casual observer however, the group now look somewhat entitled and their increasingly dangerous and poisonous rhetoric risks damaging the club further, having flowed freely into Arsenal veins.

Even during the rather tense final months of the Wenger era, at one point civil war threatened to break out amongst the many polarised fans. There is a risk, that should Emery remain at the club - as appears likely with the club remaining to back the Spaniard - will rear its ugly head again.

AFTV may protest to be the voice of the Arsenal fan, but their increasingly poisonous tones are stoking a fire that threatens to explode.

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