Merci Arsene: Arsene Wenger's English Odyssey
Ending months of speculation, Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager and a Premier League constant for 22 years, is finally calling it quits. Although unexpected, it will give football fans around the world ample time to pay their tributes to the revolutionary Frenchman.
Also, it will go a long way in uniting the much-divided Arsenal fan-base as they prepare to give a fitting farewell to the man who made them ‘Invincible’. Winning the Europa League would be the perfect send-off for the man who changed the face of English Football.
Arsene, the revolutionary
Arsene Wenger took over the reins of Arsenal in September of 1996. Although Wenger was well-known in the French footballing sphere, he was virtually an unknown personality in England.
This prompted a leading English daily to run the now-infamous ‘Arsene Who?’ story the next day and unsurprisingly, how long the new boss would last was one of the biggest bets in the country. Not many gave him more than a couple of seasons. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Before the Frenchman arrived at Arsenal, the club was in a turmoil. His predecessor had quit following frequent run-ins with the senior players, the club had an infamous drinking culture with captain Tony Adams struggling to get sober.
The club had finished 12th and 5th in the two previous seasons and had a reputation of playing ‘Boring, defensive football’. All that was to change pretty quickly.
After Wenger arrived, he quickly instilled a new philosophy of playing free-flowing, attractive brand of football, the kind of which England had never seen before. The players were banned from drinking and resorted to a more healthier diet
Players like Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Winterburn and Wright credit this initiative from Wenger for prolonging their footballing careers. The new Gunners boss also brought in new training methods that later inspired other clubs to follow suit as well. Along with this, Wenger pioneered the use of statistical analysis in football.
The results were there for everyone to see. In his first full season in-charge, Wenger lead Arsenal to a historic League and Cup double, taking the crown from Ferguson’s all-star Manchester United team.
And he did this playing truly artistic, eye-catching football (read WengerBall). Wenger was a step ahead of the game and it forced everybody else in the Premier League to change their own style of play.
Arsene Wenger, with all his changes, truly revolutionised British football and ushered in a new era of the Premier League. Guardiola quite rightly pointed out that "the Premier League is the Premier League because of personalities like Arsene."
The Pinnacle: Invincibles
From the time Wenger arrived, Arsenal finished either 1st or 2nd for eight consecutive seasons. The pinnacle of that period and arguably in English football came during the 2003-04 season when Arsenal won the league without losing a single game.
When Wenger had boldly claimed the previous season that his team could go a whole season unbeaten, he was mocked by the British press. A year later, they were all made to eat their words as Arsene and Arsenal accomplished the unprecedented ‘Invincible’ season.
By this time, Arsene Wenger was widely regarded as one of the elite managers in the world and had offers from more glamorous clubs. He resisted these temptations on more occasions than one, just to stay true to his values.
In the second half of his Arsenal career, the economist in Arsene came to the fore, as he oversaw a complicated move from the old Highbury stadium to the brand-new Emirates. The bank guarantee was that Arsene would stay on for at least five years and he signed a 5-year deal without a second thought.
Austerity years and legacy
The financial restrictions post the Emirates move meant that Arsenal sold their top players and Wenger invested heavily in young academy prospects. And even with these inexperienced players, Arsenal was competitive and always got into the Champions League during these years.
While Arsenal’s ‘star’ players left him during these difficult moments, Wenger continued to fight loyally. The fact that Arsenal managed to get out of those difficult financial years unscathed is a testament to Wenger’s managerial ability.
Arsene Wenger will go down as one of the best managers in Premier League history. He single-handedly ushered in the modern era in English football. He played his brand of ‘artistic’ football and won trophies doing so.
Even during the austerity years, Arsenal never played boring football. Not only did his teams dominate England but they also secured some important wins in Europe, against the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter and AC Milan and Bayern Munich.
Wenger truly transformed Arsenal Football Club and made it into a global force. Arsenal today, is one of the most recognised and respected English clubs around the world. And he did that with immense class and panache. For all this and much more, Merci Arsene!