It’s easy to be upset, even angry with someone or something. It takes a lot more to fall out of love with it. That would be caused by years of frustration, unhappiness, and feeling that nothing will change.
It would be extremely naïve and wrong to say that Arsene Wenger was deservedly held in anything other something extremely close to God-like status during the first ten years with Arsenal. He changed the football club, from new players, diets, training grounds, to simply a new way of thinking. Patrick Vieria, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires would unlikely have come near us without him.
And while he came across as the quiet, deep thinking manager, under the surface Arsenal had a hardened winner leading them into the most exciting few years in their history. He absolutely loved the battles with Sir Alex Ferguson, that everyone was desperate to beat his team, he loved that his team scrapped for every point when they couldn’t play the perfect football he expected.
e loved being the best. Dare I say it, but Arsene in the late 90’s/ early noughties had elements of Mourinho and Simeone hidden beneath him. Two doubles, and the Invincible Season are all the evidence you need.
Something changed. While everyone’s least favourite Portuguese manager began winning everything whilst upsetting everyone, his Arsenal were in steady decline. And by the time we had lost the2006 European Cup Final, we were saying goodbye to Highbury, and moving to Emirates Stadium, with a young team and huge debt to pay. For many, this is the biggest reason for our decline during the last decade. Highbury was smaller, tighter, a “classic football ground.”
Away teams were scared of coming to Highbury and from what I can gather speaking to fans of other teams, they didn’t enjoy it. They were crammed into the corner of the Clock End, all but out of sight on the TV cameras, and they often went home pointless.
Switch views to the Emirates. Even before away fans are in, they are greeted by an embarrassing “Arsenal Football Club welcomes…” banner. That is one of mine and my brother’s pet hates when we go up there. Then they enter the ground, the bowl’s main speaker then “extends a warm and sporting welcome” to the supporters, and they go on to have the time of their lives in that bottom corner of the Emirates, often making more noise than our fans (they’re not told to sit down by stewards…), and this weird atmosphere often transfers itself to the pitch and the players. I will never understand why the away fans aren’t put right upstairs, why its not 15 quid to get in to the North Bank or the Clock End to create an actual home end, the silly welcome banners are torn down, and flags/banners are welcomed. Make those changes and I’m sure that our atmosphere in our insipid home ground would change.
Now I’ve got my Emirates rant out of the way, returning to Wenger. The first few years at the Emirates were, rightly or wrongly, seen as a few free years for the manager. He was working on an extremely tight budget, with a very young team. To get them in the top four was fantastic, and most Arsenal fans were patient, if not slightly frustrated through these times, “for everything he’s done, he deserves time to rebuild a new team” was the general consensus.
However, the year where his halo slipped was 2011. February, we did the most Arsenal thing possible and blew four competitions within three weeks. A fairly standard league collapse, an even more familiar defeat to Barcelona, knocked out of the FA to Manchester United, and the disastrous defeat to Birmingham. Fast forward a few months. Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri have left. Wenger put out a side made largely of young players and understudies at Old Trafford, because he had failed to spend money during another summer of player sales. As the 8th goal went in, the camera cut to Wenger. He looked old, pale and frail. It was the first time I thought “you don’t need this mate, and possibly we don’t either.”
The last few seasons for Wenger since can be summed up as: Fans know a we need a player, Wenger doesn’t buy a player, defends his record, gets a couple of big injuries, states players missing will be like new signings, says 4th is a trophy, sees team capitalise on Spurs’ useless ability to finish a job and catch them, then repeat. I should say in there we also won two FA cups and community shields. But it’s not enough. We’ve rarely looked likely to win the league because we have a squad, and more importantly a manager that make the same mistakes again and again.
Maybe we were spoilt by his first ten years. Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool, West Ham have all changed their manager over the last years. Not all successfully, but there is such a fear amongst so many that changing the manager would be negative because the grass isn’t always greener. But sometimes it is. City sacked Mancini, first to win the league in years and got an upgrade in Pellegrini. The same with them this summer. West Ham and Spurs have improved since changing their manager.
There are many that have said Arsenal have become Arsene’s play thing. Last year, I wonder if he thought “Arteta and Flamini will give me 25 games each, we’ll win the league and I’ll be seen as a genius.” Football has changed. Gilberto for 3 million doesn’t exist anymore, nor does Edu for 6 million. You want top quality, 9/10 you need to pay top money. If this is his last season, he needs to ensure he makes it one to remember. Liverpool at home had the stench of “here we go again” around it.
I’ve prepared myself for his departure, and I’m beginning to wonder if he has too. Many fans are falling out of love with the club, and unfortunately the staleness, acceptance that this level is fine, the feeling that nothing will change stems from the most powerful person at Arsenal Football Club. And due to his previous record, that person, the person I’ve given up on, is Arsene Wenger.
Up the Arsenal.