18 years has passed since I was listening to the radio and hearing the news that we will have a new manager to replace Bruce Rioch. I was 13 and a half years old. ‘Arsenal Wenger’ I said ”that’s a great name”. In then later occurred that Arsenal, a club that has been known as a true family club, with a wealth of history and over the previous seasons of not living up to the good times (or at least we thought) of George Graham had gone into the market and appeared with a guy that nearly nobody had heard of in England.
Then I saw him in his press conference and I worried even more as Arsene never had the look of what you would expect as a top flight Premier League manager as we were still used to the shell suited Kevin Keagan styled manager. But this man, suited with tie who looked like a smarmy lawyer at best was different to that.
But what came over the next few years in my opinion not only changed football at our club but changed English football for the better, and Mr Wenger was the pinnacle in these new thought processes that the English game cried out for to bring in much more in line with football on the continent.
In his first few years he completely changed the philosophy of the club and this included in his first few weeks demanding that the training facilities that Arsenal had were not up to scratch for the football he wanted. Therefore, a new complex was build at London Colney which now is mirrored by other teams too.
He ensured a strict diet and drinking regime which was unheard of in the side. Remember Arsenal were seen as a very successful English club but one that liked a drink and now we have this new guy in telling the likes of Paul Merson and Tony Adams how to conduct themselves. Adams himself openly admits that Arsene Wenger perhaps not only increased his career but also helped him to save himself. We were known as a big drinking team in the early 90’s but this was going to change if Arsene had his way.
Then we started to see the plan that he had in his mind, we started to see how he was in the transfer market and we started to see a side to Arsene that can now compete with the likes of Manchester Utd both on and off the field. It was the start of what will likely be the most famous rivalry so far in Arsenal’s Premier League history. His battles with Fergie and Utd which also led to on field player battles were awesome. They were great times to be a fan growing up with the team we had and the rivalry with Utd and ‘old red nose’ Fergie.
In the first full season under his new regime, Wenger became the first foreign manager to win the Premier League, and followed it up with the FA Cup against Newcastle. That 97/98 season was brilliant. Our team made up of a striker aged 18 bought from PSG for around 175k in sterling, Marc Overmars on the wing and a French linch pin of Vieira and Petit in the midfield. However, he was no fool and realised that the back four of Dixon, Winterburn, Bould and Adams was a little bit tasty and Ian Wright and Bergkamp were instrumental too.
So immediately, he identified new players and old that he could gel together and get playing a completely new system of football and before long the Arsenal fans weren’t singing ”Boring, Boring Arsenal”
Wenger’s story went from strength to strength and the highlight will be the invincible season but then hard times had to follow. This man is a visionary. If we continue to do what we are doing without preparing we will fail were his thoughts. So he decided to put glory to one side and look at the longevity of the club. Ashburton Grove was the plot, and for the last decade we have been a prisoner to having our debt paid off in the most suitable way for the club, and at all costs pushed back foreign investment as best we could and tried to pay it off organically.
A lot of fans both Arsenal and against say the last 9 years have been a disappointment and that perhaps Wenger should be sacked, moved upstairs or whatever as trophies have dried up. Mourinho quoted that if he’d done this at Chelsea he may not have lasted 2 or so seasons, but that to me is a clear sign of the class of our club and the class of the man not to wilt and leave like he so easily could have done when stick was coming his way.
I can understand to a point for calls of him to leave in whatever manner and I think Wenger himself would agree but what we have achieved just by staying involved whilst being debt free has hopefully in the next few seasons brought us to the land that he has promised for so long. This is a clear indication in my opinion of why he signed a new contract. Yes the FA cup win helped, but he now believes that he can go back to being that more dynamic football manager that led us to so much success in the first half of his tenure and you only need to see the class in our side and the players he has bought to know that something has changed.
But we can’t expect it over night, the Premier League has changed and there are a lot of sides who can now challenge. But we have stayed with them these past 9 or so years and we need to allow a new project to start to materialise. Last season, it could have happened. It really was close in my opinion and in the end it was probably a mixture of injuries and a few freak results that knocked us. We need to give him these 3 seasons, to see if his idea will work out that’s surely only fair and whether results are good or bad we need to support him, as this club would have been nothing without him.
I feel that a lot of the animosity towards Arsene has been done mainly by the younger fans, those that were too young to understand how this fella has literally made the club his own. I can remember the days without Arsene Wenger but I cannot think of a future now without him in it. To me, he literally is Mr Arsenal, he absolutely loves the club and I believe he will be doing all he can to go out with a splurge of success before he is likely to move into a more senior role in the club.
I would expect that the only way he will leave us now will be in a wooden box, and personally I would be very happy to have him in some part till he cannot do anymore.
One thing I would say is yes, we have had games where he has made mistakes or made wrong decisions but enjoy that stubbornness about him too. He is happy each time he does make a controversial decision to take the undoubted flak that the fans will give him and each time he usually comes back stronger and proves himself right after all.
One thing you cannot doubt is the respect he gives to each and every other player, manager and club and generally has oozed class and for me warrants the upmost respect from the club, his own fans and that of other clubs.
Arsene, to me you have made this club what it is this past 18 years. You have had the dream to build us a world class stadium and in that time we have attracted world class talent like Henry, Pires, Ljungberg, Vieira, Sanchez, Fabregas, Ozil, RVP and more and you have thus far done it completely your way. I would be happy for another good few years with you as our manager and hopefully for you to see the harvest that you have assured us was coming. You have been our greatest ever manager and you have brought a lot of humour as well as frustration along the way- I believe in you to go with a bang.
Ps- The push on Mourinho was Epic!