Perhaps it’s the time of year or the imminent change in the seasons but I’ve been reflecting on the reign of Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger and frankly, I think I’ve gone a bit soft.
I’ve gone from a militant Wenger out figure, to one that is privileged to have experienced the Frenchman’s revolution. This is probably because the end is close and before that moment arrives, I feel that it’s worth considering everything that he has given the club. If we reflect on his tenure in recent years, then it will be tinged with disappointment and underachievement but as a whole, it will be remembered as a golden age for the club.
You will have noticed that I haven’t exactly been pro Wenger recently and my position on his status as manager, seems to have been increasingly negative with every season that sees the club fall short of the impossibly high expectations of its fans and Wenger’s catalog of previous successes.
Yes, Arsenal are in decline and if we are honest, that decline is on a par with Wenger’s own inability to stop the rot. But if we may, let’s take a moment to consider what we may have missed out on, if Wenger had never been part of the club.
He reshaped the club from top to bottom and changed the style and image of the brand around the World. Arsenal, under his guidance, were an exciting, attacking force, that were locked in various battles with all the top clubs, for all the major honours.
He bought in major talent and emerging World class players that gave fans a cocktail of highly addictive, fast-paced, attacking football that were nothing short of mesmerising.
He gave us Pires, Henry, Petite, Viera, Ljungberg, Ozil and Sanchez.
He made sure that even the impartial supporter would wax lyrical about football and become a disciple for his footballing philosophy. In the 2003–04 season, Arsenal regained the Premier League title without experiencing a single defeat. Over the 38 games they played, their league record stood at 26 wins, 12 draws and 0 losses.
This is quite possibly Wenger’s finest achievement along with keeping the club ticking over whilst balancing the books due to the acquisition of a new stadium. This almost certainly handicapped the club for every season after until recently but he managed to keep us on the top six without mounting a worthy challenge. Wenger has also won the FA cup 7 times beating George Ramsey who clocked up 6 trophy wins with Aston Villa.
Despite fans bellyaching, of which I am particularly guilty, Wenger’s win percentage is still an astonishing 57.62% and it’s even more impressive if you consider how long Wenger has been in charge. Since he has been boss, Chelsea have had 17 managers, some of them twice, as the fickle Russian oligarch shuffled the pack to obtain success.
Yet Wenger is like ‘old man river’, rolling along, ignoring trends, disinterested in the media’s games, managers complaints and fans accusations. It will be for each fan to think of what he gave to our most fabulous club. Perhaps you will think of his stubborn streak, blind loyalty to players, inability to change or frugal ways. More likely, you will remember the sublime artists he brought to North London, the silverware, the pride, excitement and universal praise.
Truth be told Wenger is all of the above, an immensely loyal and gifted man but also an uncompromising, belligerent individual. One who had a 20-year love affair with one club.
For that alone, I can forgive him everything in the negative box. In a time where loyalty lasts until the next big offer comes along, where managers and players are dispensed with frequently, Wenger has been completely consistent and given the club stability.
You will never see a manager at the same club for as long as Ferguson and Wenger have been. As the desire for rewards increases so will the desire for change to meet expectations. But who will follow Wenger? How can you step into those shoes that big?
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