LOVE him or curse him but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s decision to leave Arsenal ends a special chapter in the English Premiership League.
He brings to an end a trophy-laden but also increasingly fractious 22-year association between the Frenchman and the club.
Appointed on October 1 1996, he is the Premier League’s current longest-serving manager and has taken charge of a record 823 games.
Ironically, Wenger signed a fresh two-year contract extension last summer and while there was speculation he would leave halfway though that deal, few thought confirmation of that would arrive before the conclusion of the current campaign, especially with a Europa League semi-final against Atlético Madrid to come.
“After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season,” said Wenger in a statement posted on Arsenal’s website. “I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years.
“I managed the club with full commitment and integrity. I want to thank the staff, the players, the Directors and the fans who make this club so special. I urge our fans to stand behind the team to finish on a high. To all the Arsenal lovers take care of the values of the club. My love and support for ever.”
What a gentleman football boss: Wenger was a relative unknown in England when he was appointed Arsenal’s manager in September 1996.
But having led the club to the ‘Double’ in his first full season in charge, he quickly became viewed as a revolutionary figure, introducing sophisticated methods to the preparation and well-being of players as well as tapping into the overseas market to sign relatively unheralded players such as Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit who turned out to be world-class talents and part of one of the most thrilling, eye-catching teams ever seen on these shores.
Another ‘double’ followed in 2002 before the Invincibles campaign, when Arsenal won the 2003-04 title without losing a single match! Two years later, Wenger led Arsenal to the Champions League final, which they lost to Barcelona, and that ultimately proved to be the beginning of the end as far as his reputation as one of the leading managerial figures in this country was concerned.
Arsenal majority owner Stan Kroenke saluted the “extraordinary” Wenger: “This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport,” he says. “One of the main reasons we got involved with Arsenal was because of what Arsene has brought to the club on and off the pitch.
“His longevity and consistency over such a sustained period at the highest level of the game will never be matched. Arsene has unparalleled class and we will always be grateful to him. Everyone who loves Arsenal and everyone who loves football owes him a debt of gratitude.”
But the critics have sadly been showing their daggers because since 2006, the only trophy Arsenal have won has been the FA Cup, albeit on three occasions, while their displays in the Champions League have become increasingly poor, the nadir being their 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich last year.
Wenger’s defence of this has, in part, included the financial restrictions he has had to work under as a consequence of Arsenal moving to the Emirates Stadium 12 years ago but this line of reasoning has increasingly worn thin with supporters, especially given Arsenal’s increased financial mite in recent years.
Rather unposrtingly, more knives followed, this time from the fans as they lost notably Cesc Fàbregas, Robin van Persie and Alexis Sánchez, alongside the club’s slide down the Premiership. Last season they finished outside of the top four for the first time under Wenger’s reign and this year sit in sixth and just two points ahead of seventh-placed Burnley with five games to go. Arsenal are also the only team in the whole of England not to have collected a single point away from home in 2018.
END OF AN ERA
But Wenger stood his ground bravely and appeared almost completely oblivious to the resentment among an increasing number of Arsenal fans to his ongoing stay at the club – seen, in part, by declining attendances at the Emirates – but Friday’s announcement, which comes ahead of the Arsenal’s home match against West Ham United on Sunday, would suggest he has finally accepted he can no longer take the club forward.
It truly is the end of an era. Wow, 22 years in one of the most famous clubs in the world!
Mind you, Arsenal finished outside the league’s top four last season for the first time since Wenger arrived at the club in 1996, and are now 14 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, with five matches remaining. They face Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-final with the first leg to come on April 26.
Whatever, wherever, whoever, however, few can ignore a Premiership manager with 22 years under his belt in one of the most famous Premiership clubs.
Award-winning former Singapore national coach Jita Singh hails Wenger as “the longest-serving manager and most successful in terms of major titles won for Arsenal”. He says: “I will always rank Wenger as the most important manager in the club’s history. He’s a miracle worker. He revolutionised the club. He’s turned so many players into world-class players. Since he has been here, we have seen football from another planet.
“In my opinion, he has clearly stamped his mark. Forget the fans’ views, but football pundits will always give Wenger credit for his contribution to the revolutionising of football in England in the late 1990s through the introduction of changes in the training and diet of players.”
Wenger started from humble beginnings. He born in Strasbourg and raised in Duttlenheim. He was introduced to football by his father, the manager of the local village team. After a modest playing career, in which he made appearances for several amateur clubs, Wenger obtained a manager’s diploma in 1981.
Following an unsuccessful period at Nancy, which culminated in his dismissal in 1987, Wenger joined AS Monaco, which won the league championship in 1998. He also guided Monaco to victory in the Coupe de France. But their failure to regain the league title in later seasons led to his departure from the club by mutual consent in 1994.
RISING IN JAPAN
Off he went to the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, where he made an instant mark with the Japanese folks. He briefly coached J-League club Nagoya Grampus Eight, which won the Emperor’s Cup and Japanese Super Cup during his stint.
Wenger was named manager of Arsenal in 1996, completely an unknown face to English football and two years later the club completed a League and FA Cup ‘double’. The club won another League and Cup ‘double’ in 2002 and retained the FA Cup a year later.
That started the sparkles to fly for the Gunners and Iin 2004, Wenger managed Arsenal to an undefeated league season! This feat was last accomplished by Preston North End 115 years previously.
Arsenal later eclipsed Nottingham Forest’s record of 42 League matches unbeaten and went seven more matches before losing in October 2004. The club made their first appearance in a Champions league final in 2006, though they lost to Barcelona.
After a period of nine years without a trophy, which coincided with the club relocating to the Emirates Stadium, he guided Arsenal to further FA Cup success in 2014, 2015 and 2017.
“Arsene was a rare breed of a thinking coach and always prepared to revolutionise,” says FIFA coaching instructor Vincent Subramaniam, who was also S-League ‘Coach of the Year’. “The nickname ‘Le Professeur’ (French: usually translated as “The Teacher”) was used by fans and the British media to reflect Wenger’s studious demeanour.
“He was also a winning-minded coach, too. His approach to the game emphasises an attacking mentality, with the aim that football ought to be entertaining on the pitch. But Wenger’s Arsenal teams have been criticised for their indiscipline; his players received 100 red cards between September 1996 and February 2014, though the team has won awards for sporting fair play, too.
“At Monaco, Wenger earned a reputation for spotting young talent, and he has remained focused on developing the younger generation, taking the gamble to sideline the ageing players, which proved to be one of his setbacks towards earning the wrath of the fans.”
Throughout his managerial career, Wenger trusted his players to perform and learn from their own mistake, a quality former Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira (who is one of the early favourites now to replace him) regards as his biggest strength and weakness.
Former England manager, the late Graham Taylor said of Wenger in 2002: “I believe his biggest contribution to football is getting across the idea that players have to prepare right and look after themselves”.
Yes, Wenger leaves at the end of the season, holding his head high.
With an exemplary 22-year-old record, you can expect Arsenal to offer him a special send-off with probably a life-time mark at the Emirates Stadium with either a prominent statue or a prominent end of the grandstand or gallery named after him.
He genuinely deserves it, without fear or favour.