Few managers in the history of football have been able to achieve legendary status at their clubs. Arsene Wenger at Arsenal is a rare example.
Are we coming to an end of an era in North London? Reports in the press this week are suggesting this might be Arsene Wenger's final year in charge of Arsenal. If there has ever been a season where this might be remotely possible then it is in the current campaign. He has endured a disastrous start that any manager in the top flight has had to go through in recent years. After losing his skipper Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and watching Samir Nasri move on to Manchester City Arsene Wenger was made to suffer a record premier league loss at the hands of Manchester United at Old Trafford. Morale had never been so low in the Gunners camp. Certainly not in Wengers time. But to their credit Arsenal have showed great character and since that torrid start they have recovered admirably with a string of fine results. Away wins at Marseille and Chelsea have gone a long way in restoring pride and hope back into the dressing room. But it was a game in their Champions League campaign last season where they gave us the greatest hint yet at their ability for recovery in times of need.
It was at the Emirates during their round of 16 clash where the side produced a brilliant second half fight back that saw off the brilliant Barcelona. One moment during the game stood out to me in particular. Arsenal were trailing 1-0 to the 3 time European champions and continuous knocks on the door eventually saw the gunners level the game through a typically impossible finish from Robin Van Persie. The Emirates went into raptures and perhaps the most beautiful moment of the game, if not in Arsenal’s previous season, truly captured what sort of impact Wenger has on the team and on Van Persie in particular.
The Dutchman raced towards the dug out and was only ever going to one person. The embrace that was shared between player and manager depicted so much more than what it had merited. Yes, a goal against the mighty Barcelona that helped Arsenal to go on and win the game cannot be ignored but the delight etched upon Van Perise’s face as he leapt into Wenger’s arms was evidence of just how much Arsene Wenger means to his players.
It was a rare image because most players take the goal celebration as an opportunity to show off to the cameras how well they have been doing in the gym or what message they wish to print under their shirt so that friends back home may rejoice in their living room over the gesture. There can’t be many illustrations that demonstrate the connection that a father and son make. It truly underpins what Arsene Wenger has achieved at this now fantastic football club.
We should have great respect for the man who has transformed one of English footballs most historic teams into one of the globes leading clubs. Arsenal FC is an image that transcends across every football circle in the world and the club is forever in debt to the man who helped make it all possible. Wenger’s record of titles doesn’t perhaps do him any justice. Despite three premier league trophies and major success in The FA Cup you could say with the teams he has created they should have won more. He has been the victim of managing in a generation that unfortunately had Sir Alex Ferguson ply his trade in. This along with the many big players that have decided to fly the nest when Wenger needed them most and Russian oligarchs saw the pursuit of silverware constantly hit a bump. Arsenal could have matched the big spenders of world football in order to bring the more established crop of players to North London but this simply isn’t Wenger’s philosophy. He nurtures players. He brings them up like one of his own and demonstrates the father figure relationship that is so important in the development of young players.
There have of course been exceptions to the rule. The nature of a footballers career is such that every year without a medal is another year that will live to be regretted if a choice to move on to a better-suited club is spurned. The likes of Patrick Vieira and Theirry Henry are but a few who cannot be begrudged of their choice to move on to pastures new in pursuit of more title success. Cesc Fabregas has to be mentioned in this category. They must be remembered as great servants who wore the shirt proudly. Arsene Wenger will not keep a player against his will. He is too humble and cares for his players too much. It would destroy the make-up of a player that he refuses to coach – someone who does not want to be there. But you cannot help but wonder what might have been had they stayed on to lead the club through the post-Highbury era. Despite such major losses Wenger battled on and sought to develop new players. Scouting at Arsenal is more or less footballs impression of kinder garden. The average age of the squad in recent seasons has consistently been below 25. It’s extra ordinary for a team playing at the highest level of football. His undying passion to work with youngsters highlights his enthusiasm for the club and he is an example not just for his predecessor but also for every modern day football club wishing to progress.
We have grown up watching the great teams he has created. Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and now Robin Van Persie have all captained Arsenal teams built to play Premier and Champions league football. His ability to engineer Arsenal's relocation to a new 60,000-seater stadium must surely define the magnificent Frenchman’s time in North London and perhaps his entire career. No one can every criticize Highbury but The Emirates is simply outstanding. One of the greatest stadiums in world football and it is living testament to the contribution that not many will ever be able to replicate.
When the final whistle blew in North London last season the world was in awe of the performance. Arsenal had defeated arguably footballs greatest ever team. They did go on to lose the second leg and get knocked out but we must not forget what Wenger has achieved in a hurry.. The man has done so much for football and more notably for Arsenal FC and it perhaps became more apparent to us after the Barcelona game. There have been some tough moments at the club during his time. His inability to lead them to that elusive European cup in Paris in the summer of 2006 remains one of very few black patches on his CV, especially against a Barce side that would act as reserves to the one they beat so valiantly at The Emirates. Not everyone agrees with his stubborn nature to rely on youth in times where experience might perhaps be the better option or a multi-million pound signing to match the likes of Chelsea or Manchester United but he never gives up on his young guns. He never put them down and always fought for their reputations, defending them whenever questions were asked. He loves them and will do anything for them.
Arsene Wenger has constructed a modern day power house of a football club out of shrewd and undeniable managerial talent. He has produced world-class football teams capable of winning trophies for the best part of two decades at the club without spending half the money that most of his fellow rivals have. He has always had the best interests of the club at heart and has never put anyone or thing before it. His philosophy will live on and his dynasty will not be forgotten. He is a true legend and Arsenal Football Clubs’ most important figure. Will there ever be anyone to achieve what he has at this now magnificent club?
The same question remains for this side that has been asked for previous teams under Wenger and that is if they will finally become title winners again. Perhaps with Manchester City entering the scene it is unlikely but with a manager such as himself at the club and with a philosophy that most of his peers would dream to implement themselves you would be silly to doubt otherwise. Arsene Wenger has not just been a manager to Arsenal Football Club and if he does leave at the end of the season it will be almost impossible to replace him. He has been the parent that sets the foundation for an Arsenal family that wish to build strong bonds. He is the farmer to every crop that Arsenal grow. He is the driver to the outstanding automobile that drives Arsenal up hills that continue to propel them to new heights. He is the teacher to a class that will always learn. He is the lecturer that students will thank for they’re degree, the politician that delivers to the people. Arsene is Arsenal FC.