My love for Arsenal FC is the love I imagine I would have for a daughter (or son, assuming he heeds my fatherly nudge to support the Gunners); it’s boundless. Being a Gooner is a key part of my identity and an Arsenal match is my spiritual outlet.
I’ve supported the North London giants since I was eight years old and although I cherished the victories of the stoic George Graham and enjoyed the brief flirtation with Bruce Rioch, there is simply no one man who embodies the club quite like Arsene Wenger.
When he arrived at Highbury in 1996 and began introducing far-reaching changes to the club and to football in England, I was fascinated. A footballing purist who spoke seven languages and held a Master’s degree in economics, Le Prof’s reach even extended to the type of furniture used in the club cafeteria. He transformed the lager lout culture of the club and league into one based on professionalism and turned Arsenal into an attacking force renowned for an unerringly beautiful brand of football.
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The Frenchman also engineered the move from the cramped Highbury Stadium to its vast new home, the Emirates, managing to steer the club into the Champions League, while working within considerable financial constraints.
Sophisticated, urbane and boasting an enviable six-pack well into his sixties, here was a manager I would sooner emulate than any player.
The years from 1998-2004 were the best of times for Gooners. This halcyon period brought us two famous Doubles, the unlikely-to-be-repeated Invincible season, which saw the club go undefeated through an entire league campaign, and nearly the ultimate triumph of a Champions League trophy. Wenger lorded over all this success with untouchable confidence.
They say the hardest job in football is a toss-up between the manager of Brazil and of Real Madrid. I disagree. Being an Arsenal supporter, at least over the past decade or so, and having to endure constant bouts of unreached potential and excruciating what ifs, is far and way the Beautiful Game’s toughest assignment.
Like a son who idolises his dad as a child, but is confronted with his failings on becoming a teenager, Wenger’s penny-pinching ways and inexplicable inability to adapt tactically began to grate as the years passed without silverware. Arsenal have won three FA Cups in recent times, but title and an elusive maiden Champions League victory seem further away than ever. My respect for him, however, has never waned.
When news arrived that Wenger had agreed to resign at the end of the season, I was met with conflicting emotions. The time is right for change at the club and this has been true for a few seasons now. Arsenal desperately need fresh ideas to retake their place among the Premier League’s elite. At the same time, I feel that us fans will only truly appreciate the magnitude of Wenger’s contribution to Arsenal during this transition. I hope Patrick Vieira will be handed the reins – it would soften the blow somewhat to have one club icon replace another.
Arsenal still have the opportunity to win the Europa League. I hope that the players give their all to provide Wenger with a fitting send-off. It would be only right to see one of the greatest visionaries in football’s long history claim continental silverware in his final season with the club he loves so much.
Au revoir, Arsene, merci for the memories. You will always be Invincible in my eyes.
Now excuse me while I shed bittersweet tears into my beef bourguignon.