STONE COLD FRIDAY: Au Revoir and Merci Monsieur Wenger

I remember the day in September 1996. I walked into my local, the Kentish Yeomen in a small village called Seal just outside Sevenoaks in Kent. Duncan the landlord was just pinning a poster behind the bar, right under his sign that said “Prices subject to change depending on customer’s attitude”.

Like myself, Duncan is a diehard Gooner and only weeks earlier, we had been lamenting about that Bruce Rioch fella who had to go. So imagine the confusion with his Wenger poster and him telling me “That’s the geezer we got”. My friend Pete simply said the fella looks like a teacher, does he even know anything about football?

I must admit, even after being corrected about the pronunciation of his first name, I thought Arséne got the job because his name was similar to Arsenal. Then came the game against Leicester (Sheffield Wednesday – know it all Ed) I believe, when Ray Parlour got injured and some fella called Paddy made his debut for Arsenal.

Everyone was excited because of the buzz that this Paddy fella was a Wenger signing an we wanted to know what he was all about. Vieira didn’t just grab the game by the scruff of the neck, he announced himself as a midfield general who would leave a mark on the team for generations to come. One punter in the pub kept insisting he was definitely Irish, with a name like Paddy, he had to be.

“Is you crazy? Surely we can’t do it”

Fast forward to January 1998 and we’re still wondering where this Arsenal team will take us. There’s clear daylight, a 12 point gap between Man United in the lead and Arsenal. To this date, I still don’t understand how Wenger and that team pulled off a swing of over 13 points in the second half of the season against United to win not only the league, but the double in Wenger’s first full year in charge. It was seasons like that which gave you the belief that Arsenal was onto something.

Then the players started coming in, some of them kids that you had never heard of before. There was this young one called Anelka bought at some bargain basement price. Then there was this other fella who wasn’t doing too well as a winger at Juventus. I believe at the time, one commentator famously proclaimed, “Thierry Henry will never be a world class striker, he’s a winger through and through”. Shock on him. Don’t forget ‘ole Sol, stolen from right under the noses of them lot up the Seven Sisters Road. Treason they called it.

Wenger the Sage, Wenger the Man

In one of his final interviews, Wenger said (I paraphrase here) “There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious. There is no humiliation in setting a high target and failing to achieve it. What is tragic is setting a target and not doing everything you can to try and achieve that target”.

Ask the journalists who laughed Wenger out of the room early in the 2002-2003 season. Wenger proffered that it was possible to go through a whole season unbeaten. Of course it didn’t happen that season, and they laughed through gritted teeth as they wondered whether this French fella had lost the plot. Mind you, that wasn’t a bad season at all.

For me, one of the most poignant moments of Arséne’s career was after the last game of the ‘Invincibles’ season. We had just drawn 1-1 with Leicester and Arséne was by himself, walking quietly on the Highbury turf, contemplating the sheer magnitude of the madness Arsenal had just achieved by going through a whole season unbeaten. There were hairy moments of course, especially the draw at White Hart Lane, but those images of Wenger walking the turf told a story of a thousand words. About a man who had inspired a mesmerising group of individuals to do the unthinkable.

All Good Things Come to an End

Economists and statisticians call that moment the point of diminishing returns. That’s the point at which you start thinking whether a change is as good as stickability. Wenger and Sir Alex had tenures that spanned decades at their respective clubs. That will never happen again in football. We all know that Arsenal’s stickability with Wenger muddied the waters a bit towards the end. That should however not negate the impact Wenger has had at the club, making him Arsenal’s greatest manager of all time.

Arséne reflected yesterday that his biggest achievement was leading the move from Highbury to Ashburton Grove. It wasn’t about the glamour and the trophies; it was about the balancing act that kept the club at an even keel while paying off significant debts in the first 8 or 9 years of our move. As a strategist, I find myself totally agreeing with Wenger. Very few managers in the world would have been capable of working with that straight jacket, while maintaining the values and principles of the club. As a fan, that period was frustrating for most part, the constant loss of talent to other teams in Europe making you wonder where we were all going with this thing. Some good names passed through the club; some you’d forget in an instant and wonder what the hell Wenger was smoking when he signed those players.

Merci Mon’Amie

There are many Arsenal fans, especially the Millennials who have only known Wenger. You mention old Bruce, George and Bertie and they’ll look at you funny. Perhaps Wenger was a victim of his own success, achieving so much early in his Arsenal reign. That would explain a lot of the frustration, especially in the last 8 or so years. But in the cold light of day, our position in the wilderness of the top flight, being also-rans for most part is something many older fans can identify with from the 60’s and the 70s.

It was time for Wenger to go, and I think the balance of letting him finish the season with dignity vs firing him in the middle of a season was the right balance for all concerned. Thank you Monsieur Wenger. Like many younger fans, you have also shaped the understanding and appreciation of other older fans to a value system and a style of football. We will keep the memories we have and wish you the best in whatever you go on to do.

And goodbye from me for the season

So, I hear there’s a game on Sunday against Huddersfield. Shame that my new favourite Arsenal player will miss it. I like that boy Dinos Mavropanos. I hope the new manager uses him from the word go next season. There’s just something about him; a no-nonsense attitude and approach to defending. How many times have we screamed for a defender with that work ethic. This fella doesn’t look like one who takes prisoners. Of course he’ll get a red card once in a while, it comes with the territory; some might even argue that it’s a rite of passage.

Finally this will be my last weekly post for the season. It’s been a pleasure spending time with all of you, and thank you to YW for the privilege of sharing my musings on this wonderful blog. It was a pleasure giving you a break every Friday. How you have done this every day for 12 years 3 months, I have no idea.

Until next season.

30 thoughts on “STONE COLD FRIDAY: Au Revoir and Merci Monsieur Wenger

  1. Morning
    Thank you Isaac for a good read on Fridays, no doubt you will get the gig next season.
    Wonder when the suits will let us know who the next manager is, given there is only a short window this summer. Exciting times ahead, hopefully.

  2. Morning, sorry to be a pedant, but we didn’t draw the last game at home to Leicester, we won 2-1 (after initially going one nil down). Did someone leave early? 😜😂😂😂

  3. While I can understand the sentiment I can’t agree that the move to the new stadium was his crowning achievement. I agree financially that was the biggest change but in terms of what the club should ultimately be about the titles are what will be remembered. And let’s not overplay Arsene’s role in that move, agreed he had significant input but the likes of Danny Fiszman were far more involved in securing the project so labelling it as some kind of gift from Arsene rather than acknowledging their work is somewhat disingenuous. Also overplaying the resulting financial constraints while ignoring the quite frankly bonkers wage structure at the time doesn’t truly reflect the reality of the last decade of Arsene’s tenure.

    All of which just goes to show that in reflecting on Arsene as he departs still generates divisive feelings amongst the faithful. The Arsenal, not the Arsene, faithful that is. That’s the most disappointing part of his legacy and unfortunately I think that it will take some years yet for the damage to heal.

  4. andy1886,

    That’s why I contrasted my reflection on his thoughts while wearing the hat of a strategist – it would have made sense from that point – but as a fan, it was one of those crazy things – we didn’t have to have either or, the footballing side could still have been managed better and the players (regardless of the group) tactically prepared better for games

  5. Andy

    Fib or fibbing, such a polite word, you wouldn’t hear it this side of the Irish sea. A word from yesteryear 🙂

  6. Also Andy , think about this. In at least 3 seasons since the invincibles, we would have won the Premier league if the team were tactically managed better and that had nothing to do with the move to the Emirates an the straight jacket. For one, 2007-2008 where we went into meltdown after Birmingham. The sight of Gallas sitting helplessly on the turf like a cry baby summed everythign up. On two other seasons, we were 4 to 6 points off the top. Through the seasons, we were very capable of getting a draw when it was a loss and a win when it was a draw. You kept thinking “if only that game”. For me, those were the most frustrating times, when we actually had a real chance of winning.

  7. I Odumbe Kute,

    Indeed, we had chances, the most notable being as you say the 2007/08 season. Two things stand out. Firstly in January AW decided to stay loyal to the players who had put us top at that point which proved as many predicted to be a mistake (strengthen when you’re on top is the mantra of serial winners). Secondly, the stupid penalty given away at the end of the Birmingham match by Gael Clichy.

    I loved what David Dein did for the club but his biggest mistake was letting Ashley Cole leave for the sake of a few thousand pounds a week, while at the same time we were paying over the odds for the likes of Denilson and NB52. Gael Clichy was a decent player but always had a mistake in him, the only reason he got so much leeway was because he was seen by the fans as the ‘anti-Ashley Cole’. I doubt that any fan if they were honest thought that we got a good deal in the exchange for Gallas, if we’d have kept Cole I’d put money on us winning the title that season.

  8. Great blog today and a nice way to sign off for the season – thank you.

    As for those heady days of the late 90s and early 2000s. They were so exciting, with such a buzz. The way we played, the swagger, the results, the players coming in. Rose-tinted a bit, but it was a golden time. In the absence of a Delorean with a working flux capacitor, I hope we have another period like that now, just so my kids can enjoy it this time around. Born 97, 99 and 03 they may be Arsenal fans, but cannot recall those days. Fingers crossed!

  9. Thank you Darius, as a long time poster and admirer(not always agreeing), I enjoyed your Friday post.

    Have to say, Arsene is the only manager I knew as a Gooner (I’m a student of futbol and I refuse to be one of the Millennials you speak of) and I enjoyed the great times and bitched at the bad ones. He stayed too long but thanks for the last 3 FA Cup.

    If Arsene really wanted to go out his way in his final Arsenal match, he would start the likes of Nelson, Nketiah, Maitland-Niles, Willock and others.

  10. Arsetralian,

    You asked about Bill’s obsession with selling Bellerin, if you haven’t noticed, my friend Bill hates youth and think they are the only inconsistent players.

    So he wants to sell them all, sign an experienced player for shit loads more and then say that player is shit when he struggles in his first season. As for the youth that he would allow to stay, they get one mistake before he says, ‘told you, if the past 13 yeara has shown us anything its that you can’t count on you’.


  11. Great post Darius. I will miss you this summer. Arsene deserves all of the credit in the world for his brilliant job of managing prior to 2005. He also deserves a lot of credit for a wonderful defense lead run to the CL final in 2006 and a title challenge against the odds in 07/08. However, Everything about him changed at the start of the Emirates era and Arsene let his ego over take his brain and he took advantage of his charisma and a weak Board to take total control of the club. The idea that he loved the club and everything he did was for the best of the club has certainly been disproven over the years and the reality he made it about what he wanted to do even if that meant using his charisma to divide the fan base. He wanted to ignore team defense and win with his brand of total football and build the club in his image and he was willing to accept lesser results to indulge his desire to do things his way. No one wanted us to play football like a Tony Pulis team but at the same time any manager will accept that you need a solid team defense in order to be successful. The fiasco that has been Arsenal team defense for the last 14 years is the single biggest example but there were plenty of others.

  12. .C:

    You asked about Bill’s obsession with selling Bellerin, if you haven’t noticed, my friend Bill hates youth and think they are the only inconsistent players.

    So he wants to sell them all, sign an experienced player for shit loads more and then say that player is shit when he struggles in his first season.As for the youth that he would allow to stay, they get one mistake before he says, ‘told you, if the past 13 yeara has shown us anything its that you can’t count on you’.


    I don’t hate youth, but I like our team to win. My views have been shaped by the events of the last 14-15 years. I honestly can’t think of a single one of the hundreds of players we have disagreed about over the years who has actually lived up to expectations. I understand that hope springs eternal but there is no doubt that our results have suffered because of overly optimistic expectations. When you have a very large sample size giving the same answer close to 100% of the time it seems hard for me to understand why anyone would not be willing to accept the obvious conclusions.

  13. C

    I have complained endlessly for years about Arsene’s being stubborn and never learning from his mistakes so I am taking my own advice and learning the lessons the last 14 years has been trying to teach.

  14. Very well written, Darius. I understand your point of view and it is a fair one but it isn’t one that I can wholly share.

    As far as football and emotion are concerned, and they are closely related, the move from Highbury to a modern concrete structure, is not, in retrospect, to be applauded. We were sold a dream of being better able to compete and the reverse has been true. The game has changed as has the financial environment and the governance of the club.

    The obsession with finances that many Arsenal fans have today is due to that move, the excuses it created not to spend and the dislocation between emotion, history and the club that is now Arsenal. As an emotional historian, I regret that. There is no glamour in The Emirates, modern Arsenal or the corporate entity that now owns it’s soul.

    Wenger to me was the chief architect of that, not the Emirates itself which Andy has pointed out was more the work of others, but of the modern belief that anything good about Arsenal was his creation.

    In truth, what we are now is a fairly ugly team stripped of pre Wenger history, playing for a share price rather than trophies to make money for an owner with no emotional stake in the club.

    His going will not alter that situation immediately but I can hope that it is a step on the way.

  15. Darius

    “I like that boy Dinos Mavropanos. I hope the new manager uses him from the word go next season. There’s just something about him;”

    I have no problem with you wanting a player you like in the line up. The problem is the new manager is likely to need every point he can get if we want to have any chance to climb into the top 4. Hopefully the he won’t do an Arsene and leave the squad a couple players so he can use an inexperienced player like Mavropanos from day 1.

  16. Arsene has been leaving the squad a few players short almost every season for the last 14. I hope that is about to change.

  17. One thing that needs to be considered about this summer and getting somebody in asap is that thr window closes early this summer.

  18. .C,

    One thing that reassures me, despite the short window this summer, is that Sven Mislintat has been getting to know our duad, its weaknesses and strengths and gaps, for nearly 6 months now and his knowledge, coupled with Sanllehi’s market savvy, will give the incoming manager a real head start. But there will be many changes, I’m sure.

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