We’ve all been soaking in a Wenger wonderland over the last few days with the looming one-thousandth game of Le Boss’ Arsenal career.
I couldn’t let the moment pass without a few thoughts.
A thousand games in charge is a quite remarkable feat. Truly amazing – unrivalled at Arsenal, and probably never to be seen again anywhere in the Premier League. Football is so much shorter-term these days, but I think we need to get one thing straight. Wenger has not survived purely because he’s a yes man, or because he’s from a different era. He doesn’t hoodwink the board or pull the wool over the executives’ eyes. He’s survived because he’s a phenomenal manager.
While on the one hand I do agree with the general feeling that managers are not given enough time these days, it’s easy to forget that the best way of buying yourself time is by being good at what you do. And Wenger is that alright. He’s a dynastic manager, a man whose first years were so successful and radical that he bought himself all the goodwill he needed. Survival in football management is a bit about luck, but it’s also about ability, adaptability and resilience. It’s about intelligence, fitting in, and a stubborn will to succeed.
But make no bones about it, Wenger has lasted 1,000 games at Arsenal because he’s good. Not just good – he’s brilliant. Not many managers can do this. Nobody can blag it. Perhaps we won’t all see it till he’s gone. But I think in time, we will.
Of course, the second half of his reign has not been without its faults. It’s been consistent – impressively so – but trophy-less. Some things seem infuriatingly unfixed. Yet he’s still here, not purely on the gaseous vapours of past success, but because he does so much for Arsenal. And I think that is key to a wider understanding of Wenger.
I look at football, at its egoists, arrivistes, idiots and flash-in-the-pans, and then I see Wenger. He’s a figurehead at a club that has always prided itself in doing things the right way. He’s calm, educated, intelligent. I like what he stands for, just as I like what Arsenal stands for.
So well done Arsene – it’s an amazing landmark. I don’t always agree with you, and I often question you, but you are an easy man to respect and admire. (And I want to little-bit meet you.)
Incidentally, stable door, horse, bolt, my best Wenger XI is: Seaman, Dixon, Adams, Campbell, Cole, Pires, Vieira, Fabregas, Overmars, Henry, Bergkamp.
I include Dicko in this not because he epitomises Wenger, because really he’s a George Graham best XI kind of a bloke. Sagna or Lauren would have been better fits here. But I loved Lee Dixon’s determination, commitment, defensive nous (and that own goal against Coventry, come on, that was phenomenal).
Thinking about Dixon now brings up a good memory. When we were at Highbury, in the East Lower, we sat behind these two lads whose entire raison d’etre was to laugh, and to have a good laugh. They were such good value, but after the move to the Emirates they went one way and we another, and that was that.
But one of the fellas had a hilarious relationship with Lee Dixon. As far a I recall he liked him, but took it upon himself to wind him up whenever possible. Whenever Dixon came over to where we sat he’d always shout, “Oi, Dixon, you’re SHIT”. After a while, Dixon had clocked this and would look over with a grin. Then one game, the bloke behind told us he’d been at a charity golf game and, lo and behold, who had been there but Lee Dixon. So, rather than break a habit of a lifetime, from across the fairway came the famous battle-cry. “Oi, Dixon, you’re SHIT”. Superb.
Incidentally – and I wish I could remember his name now – one of the lads behind told me once at half-time that before coming to Arsenal, he’d been a Luton fan. Naturally, we were all taken aback by this so I asked him how he had come to support Arsenal.
He looked at me, sighed, and said, “I just got tired of being beaten up”.