After 22 years of service, Arsène Wenger finally announces his plans to leave Arsenal football club. He departs with a mixed legacy; an increasing amount of fans are disappointed at the club’s recent performance. However, he shall remain a classy individual, who led the north london side with grace and integrity.
A Man of Innovation
Arsène coached Nagoya Grampus Eight for 18 months achieving pockets of success. (image via Arsenal.com)
Wenger’s arrival to what was a new but insular premier league in 1996, set the stage for a revolution within English football. In the early years at the helm of Arsenal football club, Wenger introduced new conditioning routines to a group players who were known for their reckless antics off the pitch. This is an aspect of the game, us fans so easily forget. It was inspired by the 18 months he spent in Japan coaching J Nagoya Grampus Eight in the J-League. This experience acted as a catalyst for the development of his footballing philosophy. Whilst in Japan, the Frenchman noticed how the Japanese tended to live longer lives than some of their western counterparts. Wenger pinned this down to their ‘special’ diet and active lifestyles.
When he joined the club he imposed the ‘japanese way’ in the squad’s footballing routine. All the players were put on a low-fat and sugar diet. A state-of-the-art gym was constructed at the training ground upon Wenger’s request. The Japanese influence even made its way into the changing room. At halftime, the manager insisted that players should keep quiet in order to maintain concentration whilst simultaneously relaxing for the second-half.
In 1996, the premier league had only two managers of non-British heritage: Wenger and Ruud Guillet. In 2018, the total stands at 12, with some of these coaches ranked as some of the best in the world. Since then, Wenger has signed players from 26 different countries. He is also responsible for fielding the first all foreign first team in the premier league. Also in 2004, he was the first manager to field a majority black starting 11 in the premier league; with 7 of the 11 players hailing from Cameroon, Brazil, France, and England.
The legendary dynamic of Viera, Pires, Henry and Bergkamp celebrate with fellow teammates Ashley Cole and Gilberto Silva. (Image via Reuters)
Though some may loathe the lack of British presence within the premier league, it has had an overall positive effect on the league. Wenger’s bravery in seeking out foreign talent acted as a catalyst in transforming the premier league from a domestic into a truly globalised entity.
The Prime Years: 1996-2006
Indeed, this exceptionally different but effective managerial style paved the way for some of Arsenal’s greatest moments. In the 1997/98 season, Arsène became the league’s first foreign manager to secure the double. In only his second season, Wenger won the league title and FA Cup. Unfortunately, Wenger and Arsenal would then go on to suffer their first trophy drought between 1998 and 2001. However, it was in this time frame that Wenger further rebuilt the Arsenal squad by making a plethora of key signings.
The likes of Nwankwo Kanu, Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell, Fredrik Ljunberg & Robert Pires were all brought in by Wenger. This group of players alongside Patrick Viera (Arsene’s first signing) and Dennis Bergkamp would prove to be a monumental force in English and European football. The 2001/02 season gave way to another double as Wenger defeated bitter rivals Manchester United once more to secure the title.
The invincibles squad celebrate a momentous title victory at Highbury in 2004. (Image via Arsenal.com)
It was the 2003/04 season which would grant Arsenal with the ‘Invincibles’ epithet. This squad went on unbeaten for a record-breaking 49 games. It was at this point, European football began to fully acknowledge the genius-traits in this charismatic but strategic Frenchman. As well as the astronomical level of ability that flowed through his team. This season was followed by a notorious win over Sir Alex and Manchester United in Cardiff, for the 2005 FA Cup. The 10 year honeymoon period culminated in 2006, where Wenger and Arsenal had the golden opportunity to be crowned kings of Europe, in the champions league final in Paris against Barcelona. Despite taking an early lead with a header from Sol Campbell; With 10-men Arsenal could not hold off Barcelona for a full 90 minutes.
The Beginning of The End: Life at the Emirates
Initially, the move from Highbury to the Emirates stadium signalled to the world that Arsenal had high ambitions to cement their reputation in Europe and the wider world of football.The 60,000 capacity stadium with the price tag of £390 Million was an exemplary model of a 21st-century stadium. Wenger believed that the move would prove ‘vital’ to Arsenal’s financial future and bolster their ability to attract the world’s best footballing talent.
Inside the Emirates. Dubbed European’s football most successful football stadium by populous.com (image via populous.com)
Unfortunately, what ensued over the next 5 years was far from the goals set for this major club. The costs of the new stadium meant that Wenger was strapped for cash. As a result, he primarily focused a rearing young talent, helping them transition into the first team. A trait which Wenger has been renowned for. The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, and Laurent Koscielny would all be developed under the watchful gaze of ‘Le Professeur’.
His enthusiasm for developing young talent combined with the move to the Emirates established Wenger as a football manager blessed with financial prudence. The move resulted in a doubling matchday revenue and more recently, the club recorded a total revenue of £419 million pounds. In terms of revenue, this made them the sixth biggest club in the world.
However, this did not compensate for the consistent trend of Arsenal’s lack of ability to challenge for major titles. Alongside, with Wenger’s tendency to rear Arsenal’s brightest talent and then sell them to rival clubs. In the last decade, the departures of Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and more notably Robin Van Persie, made fans more resentful of Arsène Wenger’s presence at the club. He managed to recoup morale with an impressive 3 FA Cup wins within the last four years. However, the lacklustre performances within the league and horrendous defeats suffered within Europe caused division within the fanbase.
Robbie Lyle has created a huge online following, allowing fans to voice their views on Arsenal’s underperformances. (Image via Youtube)
For the last two years, Arsène Wenger’s legacy has become marred by the growth of the #WengerOut brigade who have mainly expressed their views via ArsenalFanTV. A huge youtube channel created by Robbie Lyle. Their concerns have been further vocalised by a bunch of prominent pundits on more mainstream platforms such as Sky Sports and BT Sports. The likes of Jamie Redknapp told Sky Sports, after Arsenal’s embarrassing defeat against Brighton in early march:
‘ Arsène must be questioning whether he can take on this club now; he must be thinking it to himself, surely, anyone would do’ – Redknapp told Sky Sports.
It is safe to say that his retirement announcement earlier this week, was gladly accepted by footballing fans across the world. Arsène Wenger has had a truly monumental influence on the English game. Indeed, he paved the way for other foreign managers within the premier league. The Guardiola’s, Mourinho’s and Pochettino’s owe a great debt to the Frenchman. Once again, Wenger was even at the helm of making the premier league a more globalised entity. However, like any leader who remains a martyr for their ideals, father time eventually conquers them. In this case, Wenger’s reluctance to emulate his rivals big spending habits and pragmatic style of football led to his slow demise.
However, Arsenal now has a new lease of life. The summer grants them an opportunity to build upon the strong foundations Mr.Wenger has left the club with. There are numerous candidates to take over the throne at the Emirates, including Carlo Ancelotti and former captain Patrick Vieira.