View From the 4th Tier

It has been a whirlwind week for Arsenal Football Club with the announcement of Unai Emery’s appointment, transfer drama galore, and the official closing of the book on Arsene Wenger’s career in North London. In truth, there is much to be excited about for a club that has been saddled with the over-simplified narrative of a club in decline for at least the last 2 seasons. Emery has said all the right things in his press conferences, and a few jingoist implications from a few media members stuck in last century, his attempts at communicating in English have garnered respect from all corners. A busy summer transfer window is almost certainly in the cards for the club as they look to recapture their rightful place at or near the top of the Premier League. 

That isn’t what I want to talk about today though, because I’m the midst of all of the excitement surrounding the Gunners, true ugliness was foisted upon the Emirates faithful this week in the form of the most heinous home shirt in the club’s history. Yes, Puma is back again this season as the club’s official kit supplier, and while some of their designs in the past have polarised opinion, the 2018/19 home kit has finally united this fractured fan base in near unanimous disapproval. 

Resembling something closer to what Tottenham fans can expect to see in their new stadium when the NFL comes to London, the new shirt is an affront to both the traditions of the club’s classic home strip and to clothing design in general. In truth, you can almost see what they were trying to do, with the collar design loosely aping the complex converging panels at the neck of the 04/05 Nike home shirt, but they haven’t pulled it off. Puma have again added a second shade of red to the main body of the shirt, this time across the chest, to accent the heather-like texture of the torso. While these details seem to lack cohesion, nothing compares to the calamity that is the sleeves. Apparently inspired by after-dinner mints and ‘Where’s Waldo’ picture books, the sleeves have been wrapped with finely banded red and white stripes, the effect of which makes players look like they are wearing pink armbands. The effect is…striking.

So why have Puma done this to our timeless kit? After all, isn’t this the same company that fought tooth and nail to win Arsenal as the crown jewel in their club portfolio? The simple answer is that they were trying something different and it didn’t quite come off. However, the conspiracy theorist in me cannot help but think this is Puma’s revenge for the reports stating the club will likely not renew their deal with the German kit supplier following the 2018/19 season. Arsenal have been linked with both Adidas and Nike to take over from Puma, with a significant rise on the reported ~£30 million the club currently receive annually. It will end a 5 year relationship that produced perhaps more complaints from fans than was anticipated when the deal was consummated. 

Puma has not been afraid to tinker with the formula during their time as Arsenal’s supplier, and their third choice kits have generally been bold and unique in the colours used, but many are longing for a return to a more traditional look. With the modern football fan starting to resemble the ball more than the players in their physique, Puma’s tight, almost compression style shirts have caused many fans to avoid the authentic article, opting instead for the more relaxed fitting replicas. Fan support seems solidly behind the team moving back to either Adidas or Nike next season, and Puma, for their part, have increased their portfolio of clubs since the original pact was struck. Perhaps it is time for both club and company to move in different directions, with Arsenal returning to a familiar place and Puma free to experiment with the shirt designs of other clubs.