The year is 1996, just a couple of months after the league had kicked off, Arsenal had cause to sack their manager. Arsenal’s then Vice-Chairman, David Dein took a bold step by employing a certain Arsene Wenger who wasn’t known despite managing in France and Japan. His arrival kicked the media into a frenzied action with the ever historic newspaper headline – Arsene who? One cannot really fault the media for that headline given the fact that Arsene wasn’t a household name and he was a foreigner coming into a league predominantly dominated by English managers.
After the melee caused by his arrival, Arsene soon settled down and revitalised the club, from the food served by the canteen to the field of play. Prior to his arrival, Arsenal was usually slammed for playing boring football but Wenger changed that and turned a boring boring Arsenal side into an exciting side to watch.
The following season after his arrival saw him win the league and FA cup, a feat that didn’t sit well with then Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. This sparked off a rivalry between both managers. Wenger became the first foreign manager to win the English premier league and went on to be the most successful manager in the FA Cup – the oldest cup competition in football history.
Wenger didn’t just win titles; he won by playing beautiful football. His first decade as an Arsenal manager won him lots of admirers and awards as well, both off and on the field of play. He was even awarded an OBE award.
Though, Wenger won just 3 league titles all through his 22 years at Arsenal, he won them in style. He won league titles at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane – homes of eternal rivals. He also gave us The Invincibles, a feat that is yet to be matched since then.
Given the successes Arsene recorded in his early years, one would have thought he would go all the way with Arsenal but then some other factors came to play. Arsenal needed to build a bigger stadium or enlarge Highbury to accommodate more fans and to also meet the image of a big club we were turning out to be. The deal was agreed, the go ahead was given to build a new stadium and that heralded a lot of changes for both club and manager.
First off, money was needed and to build the stadium and this led to taking off loans. The challenge was repaying these loans and still compete for trophies. Established players were sold only to be replaced with average players or no one at all. This became a recurring decimal at the club.
Initially, Wenger was able to do this so well that despite not winning any trophies, Arsenal were getting Champions League football. They made the quarter and semi finals at a point. Despite his team playing attractive football, we weren’t winning anything but at least, the hope was there. This led to Johan Cruyff saying Wenger was one of the best managers in the world given his ability to do what he was doing. Wenger also won coach of the decade ahead of Ferguson despite not winning anything.
Fast forward to 2013, debt fully paid. Now we can sign one major player during the summer transfer and in came Ozil. That led to the first FA cup after so many years.
2014 brought Sanchez and Arsenal fans were in dream land, finally, we weren’t reliant on younger players anymore, we were getting the real deal. Despite this major signing, Arsene was still unable to win the league or go past the second round of the UCL. He was however able to ‘personalise’ the FA Cup. He won it thrice in 4 years
The fans were beginning to get disgruntled and rightly so – the flair and finesse that marked Arsene’s early years wasn’t there anymore. The club wasn’t winning the trophies most fans would have loved to have, the players were becoming nonchalant on the field of play and it seems Wenger had lost his Midas touch. His second phase as Arsenal manager coincided with the arrival of English clubs having funds from petrodollars and also the emergence of young coaches with different tactics.
Wenger could not really compete with the big boys again, the team was also in need of a defender or a holding midfielder and when it matters most, the team ends up crumbling.
Eventually, a section of the fans started clamouring for him to step down while some could never see any wrong in him and who can blame them? How do you suddenly turn your back on someone that entertained you with entertaining football over the years? This heated debate soon broke the fans into two distinct groups – Wenger Out Brigades (WOBs) and Arsene Knows Brigades (AKBs). The constant conflict made it even more difficult for Wenger due to the toxic atmosphere this created at the Emirates. It became an unending battle between both set of fans.
Wenger who used to be a symbol of excitement and hope now became a divisive figure.
His second decade cannot be written off as a failure but certainly it didn’t live up to expectations and most often left the fans disgruntled. He has the most FA cup trophies in the history of the competition but outrageous losses to rival teams over the years did have its toll on the mentality of the players.
Finally, he decided he’s had enough and announced his resignation but it seems that’s a couple of years late.
Arsene Wenger, despite all that happened will forever remain a classy manager and a brilliant one at that. There might be instances of ‘what could have been’ with regards to him, but just as many banners carried last year, thanks for the memories, it’s time to leave. #MerciArsene