In the end, the announcement came out of the blue, pushed onto the Arsenal website and social channels with the simple words: Merci Arsène.
That’s it, it’s over. Wenger finally pulled the plug on his 22-year reign with delicately chosen timing. There’s long enough to think, to weigh it all up, and to soak in some of the extraordinary memories he created. There’s time to give him the send-off he deserves, to find someone new, and to focus on ending his final season at Arsenal with a final hurrah in Europe.
So yes, thank you Arsène. Thank you for transforming our club, for building those teams of grace, power and panache, and for going head to head with the best teams in the land, for the biggest trophies there are. Any history of his reign will be nuanced, some would argue chipped around the edges, thanks to the latter half of his tenure, where in league and European terms at least he presided over a slow decline, but as time goes by I have no doubt he’ll be remembered for what he is: one of the best managers, if not the best manager, in Arsenal’s history.
The good, the bad. The mostly good.
Some legacy. The results, trophies and near misses – three titles, seven FA Cups, one Champions League final, one Uefa Cup final, a few League Cup finals and just the one FA Cup final defeat – are just a part of it. Beyond that there are the well-documented changes to things like player nutrition and diet. There’s the rapier-fast, ruthless football that changed Arsenal’s tune completely. There’s his role in the move to the Emirates Stadium, there’s his intelligence, good grace and social conscience. His humour and ability to delve into deeper societal issues. The way he trusts and defends his players, even at times when, quite frankly, they don’t deserve it. OK, in the interest of balance there’s his stubbornness too, and his myopia. But how many managers aren’t a bit like that?
So that’s Wenger the manager; Wenger the man. But for me, as for most Arsenal fans, it’s more complicated than that. His astonishingly long tenure means there are Arsenal fans out there in their mid-to-late twenties who’ve known nobody else at the helm of their club.
The end of an era
I’m a bit longer in the tooth, but I was 25 when he took over. It’s heading towards half my life ago. I look back at 1996, and it genuinely feels like another time. A different world, a different England and a different me. So as I’ve grown up, moved jobs, got married, had kids and experienced all of life’s peaks and troughs, there’s Arsène Wenger, a constant, there or thereabouts, a big part of my life. And there’s me, there or thereabouts, experiencing all of Wenger’s peaks and troughs with him.
That’s why I’m in a bit of turmoil, because memories blur into one and it’s made me more emotional than I thought it would. I’ve advocated a change for several years now, and I’m glad (for the direction of the club) that it’s happened. It’s the right time. I’m also genuinely excited at what next season and beyond holds. But at the exact same time, I feel sad, a little nostalgic and sentimental.
To all the Arsenal lovers, take care of the values of the club. My love and support for ever”.
Well, that tipped me right over.
So thanks Arsène, thanks a million. For a long while you gave us the best football we’re ever likely to see.
Au revoir, and good luck.