When I joined Twitter almost 4 years ago, it rapidly became my go-to social network. It was a quick way to see what’s happening in the Arsenal world and I’ve rarely missed anything of note since. I thought Arsene Wenger’s resignation would surely be known to me within minutes, such is my dedication to checking the feed.
And yet it was not. The first one to break the news was my colleague, followed up shortly by my sister. She’s not even into football, she simply got a push notification from her BBC app which read: “Breaking News: Arsene Wenger to leave at the end of the season after 22 years at the Club.”
If you look at it objectively, the “breaking news” section is usually reserved for political stuff which I don’t want to get into, or some natural disasters, which I want to get into even less. With Wenger, he made the grade. “Manager of football club resigns” isn’t classed breaking news very often, if at all.
Yet if anything demonstrates the influence Arsene Wenger had on the British football and, dare I say, British culture, it is this, rather insignificant on the surface, bit of news. The tremor of a simple statement from a football manager released on a website was felt all over the world.
Tributes and photos came flooding in with such force Twitter actually stopped working for a while, the servers overloaded and metaphorical Internet doors torn off cleanly off the hinges. My first reaction to Arsene announcing his retirement was that of a deep, profound shock.
I have not expected this to happen the way it did, in simple terms. I knew the time has come, it was clear Arsene has taken the team as far as he could. Yet Arsene Wenger, an inherently decent man who tried to do what’s right for the Club he loves, always honors his contracts. Was there a chance he wouldn’t this time?
Well, now we know the answer to that question. Our French manager has made the ultimate sacrifice, because we all know how much Arsenal means to him and how he dreads retirement. Yes, he could, and should, have done it sooner. But if we accept that our drawbacks are the extension of our good qualities, then it’s not altogether unthinkable Wenger stayed for longer than he should have.
Without his resilience, his stubbornness even, his firm belief in his principles and values, our French manager wouldn’t have become a top-flight coach, let alone prove his credentials for almost a quarter of a century at a club like Arsenal.
And let’s be honest: there is so much to like about Arsene Wenger the man at least. His class, pedigree even, the moral standards he set and holds himself and the Club to, his undoubted passion for the game and for Arsenal. In Arsene Wenger we have a workaholic, an honourable man and a father figure to many players past and present.
Even know, when the results in the league have declined, there’s a case to be made Wenger’s achievements over the long distance is exceptional. One of my friends, a blogger of an astute tactical mind and deep respect for Arsene Wenger, compared league positions of top clubs to wage bills. He concluded that even in the second, mostly trophyless part of his reign, Wenger significantly overperformed every other PL manager.
While to me such a method of comparing position to objective expectations is flawed in several ways, this is not the time and the place to get into the weeds of it. The footballing landscape has clearly changed and Wenger did everything he could to keep up, but just tailed off a bit of late.
I’ve talked about the shock I experienced when the news broke, yet I haven’t mentioned how much of a soothing effect Arsene’s statement had on the fanbase almost in its entirety, me included. There is no more appetite to bash our manager, who’s stepping down so soon after having done so much. In the end perspective will prevail, to a degree it has already.
As for me, I think it would be suffice to say I have never known Arsenal without Arsene Wenger. For a large chunk of my football fan’s life (before the social networks corrupted me) I have never even questioned Wenger’s constant presence on the touchline. In my eyes he was so intrinsically linked with Arsenal he became a permanent feature of the club, more so than any player could have.
His integrity, class, sense of humour, erudition and style of management always shone through. At some point I caught myself thinking I didn’t really know whether the values Arsenal stood for were their own or Arsene’s, and I don’t mean that in any demeaning way.
Even when my inner conviction that Arsene can no longer make us compete for the league broke, I couldn’t quite imagine Arsenal without the Frenchman. There is so much to like about Arsene Wenger, so much to be proud about that he is the man representing your club, it was simply impossible for me to bash the man. The fact Arsene can’t take the team to another footballing level is perhaps the greatest tragedy for everyone linked with Arsenal.
There were whispers on Friday Arsene was ready to leave after last season, but realized the Club wasn’t ready for a transition to another manager, and stayed on. Some will say he acted out of pure greed, or that he is an old man dreading retirement and putting his interests above the interests of the club. I don’t think we will ever know for sure, so it all boils down to what you choose to believe in.
I choose to believe that Wenger made yet another sacrifice to not leave Arsenal in a hard place. He knew the criticism he’ll face will not subside, he perhaps knew results won’t improve, yet he stayed on, opting to sacrifice his personal reputation to help the club he loves.
This would be in line with what I think about the man, with how he comes across. Hence I’ll stick to this version, unless or until Wenger himself writes an autobiography one day. And I hope this day comes, because there is so much more I want to know about what’s happening behind the scenes than the relatively simple question of Wenger’s resignation.
What I know for sure is that we’ll never have a manager quite like Arsene Wenger. His longevity, his early resounding success, his slew of self-sacrifices over the years, his class, are unparalleled and unique. I’m not sure his bond to the Club can be replicated either, even by a former player.
I also know that now the players and fans owe him, not the other way around. The players are the only ones who can provide the man with a fitting send-off by winning Europa League. The fans can, and I’m pretty sure will, bump up the atmosphere inside the Emirates. My only regret I won’t be there when Arsene leads his team out for one last time.
But I hope that my piece, however small, insignificant and easy to miss in the tide of information, will reverberate with at least some small group of fans choosing to read it. Thus I will make my contribution to Arsene Wenger’s farewell.
Thank you, Arsene. For everything.