Thank You, Arsene

By on September 30, 2008

From one master to another.

Since Arsenal Station doesn’t do match previews, I will take some time on this Champions League Matchday to honour the Boss’s twelve year anniversary at the club which passed last Sunday.  There has been a lot of chatter among a certain contingent of Arsenal supporters who feel that his time at the club may have run its course.  They base this opinion on the fact that he has failed to produce a trophy for the club in over three years.  I don’t want to get into a “what would happen if Arsene Wenger left the club” debate so I, generally, address this argument by reminding those disgruntled Gooners that this is not the first time we have gone three years without a trophy under Arsene Wenger.

Following the amazing double of 1998, the club went trophy-less for four years until securing Wenger’s second double and the club’s third in May 2002.  Should we have fired the Boss then?  We would have missed out on not only the 2002 double but also the 2003 and 2005 FA Cup trophies as well as his most amazing achievements of all, the unbeaten season and unbeaten run.  And if he should not have been fired then but should now, it must be down to greater expectations for the club.  But then, the club and its supporters are only able to have these kinds of expectations because Arsene Wenger has made them possible.  In fact, the similarities between the two trophyless periods are eerily similar as, In both periods, we had made two cup finals, one domestic and one in Europe, and lost both.

The loss at home this past weekend to Hull City was hardly the ideal way to celebrate the anniversary of a man who not only completely changed Arsenal Football Club but has also had a bigger impact on the game in England than anyone else in the modern era.  The man has been a revolutionary in so many aspects of the game that, looking back years from now, his influence will be incalculable.  Before Arsene Wenger took over at Arsenal, players used to head for the pub after the game.  Arsene took the Dutch notion of “Total Football” and turned it into “Total Football Management.”

He enforced strict dietary rules on players who were far less than disciplined in their eating and drinking habits.  He also completely changed the club’s training methods which probably were very similar to what they were back in the 1970s when he arrived in 1996.  And none of this is even mentioning the style of play he brought to the Premier League, the likes of which England had never seen before.  His achievements, in terms of trophies, are surpassed only by Sir Alex Ferguson but his influence on the game has been far greater than his long-time adversary.  In fact, Manchester United’s approaches to training and diet, like most other big clubs in Europe, are taken straight from Arsene Wenger’s handbook.

Arsene has built 2 1/2 teams in his time at the club.  The “half-a-team” was, of course, when he added attacking flair to the legendary back four he inherited from the George Graham-era.  He then built the team that went on one of the most impressive runs in English football in the modern era.  This side, the first that he built from the floor up, went on to win 2 league titles and 3 FA Cups, including an unbeaten season which extended to a record-breaking run of 49 matches unbeaten, surpassing previous record-holders, Nottingham Forest.  And all this was done in a matter of 4 seasons.  But teams don’t last forever and any manager who has been at a club for a long time must always tear down his previous side and build a new one.  Arsene’s new team, which has taken hold since around early 2006, has already been to a Champions League final and a Carling Cup final in the last two seasons while finishing only four points off the lead last season.  This with an average age of just under 22 if you take Almunia and Gallas out of the reckoning.

Not only has he done this with younger players, but he has even more promising younger players in the Reserves and Under-18 teams.  His eye to the future and concern for the club’s long-term health is what sets Arsene apart from most other managers.  Most managers can’t be bothered getting as involved in youth development as Arsene because they don’t expect to be at a club long enough to ever see those players come through.  They must focus on short-term results and this is mostly done by spending as much money as their respective boards will allow.  Arsene doesn’t have to worry about this because he has earned the right to a level of job security enjoyed by one other manager in the entire world.  Some fans complain this is a bad thing and that Wenger has become complacent but anyone who knows anything about how the man operates knows complacency is just not a part of his nature.  No one is more dedicated to the club, both in the short and long-terms, than Arsene Wenger.  That kind of dedication and love for the club is irreplaceable especially in the modern era.

So, in honour of the Boss’s twelve year anniversary and as an Arsenal supporter who had the great luck to start supporting the team just as the Wenger-era was beginning, I would like to thank the man for the many great memories he has given me which will last my entire life, as well as for the sheer pleasure I have gotten, and continue to get, from watching my beloved club play some of the most beautiful football I could ever hope to see, week-in/week-out for over a decade.  Thank you , Arsene.