Eighteen years ago on a bright October day it was announced that Arsenal had signed a new manager in the form of Arsene Wenger. The first response by most fans and the media was one of shock, especially as Johan Cruyff had been linked most with the position. The Express summed up the general opinion when they announced his appointment with the headline: Arsene who?
Nobody knew anything about this French man who looked more like a professor than a football manager and we all struggled to make sense of the move especially after the loss of Graham and a rough season with Rioch.
Wenger walked into Arsenal and revolutionised the way the team played, he changed everything from diets to fitness to tactics and he made our team more professional on every level. The players missed their chips and Mars bars of course but once they adapted to the new visions it was clear to see in the football that these changes were for the best In fact Wenger’s healthier food and football philosophy was adopted by many other teams in the Premiership at the time.
He immediately bought Remi Garde and Patrick Vieira and by the end of his first season in charge we had all fallen in love with Wenger. That was cemented in his second season when we won the double after overcoming the 12 point lead that Man United had in the last few weeks of the season.
The few years after that weren’t filled with trophies but we saw a team being built and players we only dreamed of having join our club, we saw effort in bringing in young players and building a good future. We saw the brilliance that Wenger and Dein combined produced, the likes of Overmars, Petit, Wiltord, Henry and Pires joined our team and made the football amazing to watch. I loved the days of Boring 1-0 wins but you can’t deny Wenger’s football in the first few years of 2000 was so entertaining.
Winning his second double in the 01/02 season was one of the biggest highlights of his career, it was made sweeter by the fact that we won it at Old Trafford when Wiltord scored the only goal of the game. We won every game away from home that year and that team right there were the best team Arsene ever had at Arsenal and it was obvious with every game.
They proved it in the 03/04 season when Arsenal went unbeaten for the whole season, the team were nicknamed ‘The Invincibles’ and forever more that would go down in history as Arsenal and Wenger’s greatest achievement ever and rightly so. It was a dream season for fans, to know that our team were probably the best in the world at the moment was such an amazing feeling.
Wenger has had many a great moment at Arsenal and it doesn’t matter which side of the fence you sit on you cannot deny this man has bought us history-something our club is built on, he gave us moments we could only dream of as children, he took us to many victories, gave us beautiful football and changed the way we played forever. He deserves respect for that at the very least.
However when you look at that bright history and compare it with the latter stages of his career at Arsenal you can see the bulb has dimmed somewhat, there are things missing and the once clever professor seems a little lost, whether it’s stubbornness or a hidden plan of brilliance lurking in the shadows it’s fair to say the last few years have been tough for Wenger and that is why a lot of people would like for him to step down.
Those nostalgic years where Arsenal fans walked around happy, smug and with pride are fading. We idolised Wenger from that first double onwards and we walked around in a Wenger Wonderland for many great years but recently the attitude has changed.
Wenger still loves Arsenal that is clear to see but some of the recent decisions over the years have caused fans to change their mind. There is a big divide between fans who still believe and fans that no longer trust his philosophy and it’s the most separated that fans have ever been.
The sad thing is whether you are Wenger in or Wenger out, we all want the same thing! The Wenger we had 18 years ago, that fresh thinking, that amazing eye for youth, that ambition and ability to win no matter the cost.
It’s up to Wenger to make us all fall in love with him again so if or when he leaves in 3 years he goes on a high and to be remembered for what he achieved…and not go out on a low like some previous managers have.
It just remains to be seen whether he still has that magic tucked away somewhere?
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