“The main reason for coming is that I love English football, the roots of the game are here. I like the spirit round the game, and at Arsenal, I like the spirit of the club and its potentials.”
A succinct expression, yet encompassing the ideology of a man who would go on to prove his mettle in English football.
Those were the words of Arsène Wenger during his first press conference on October 1, 1996; few days after he was unveiled as the new Arsenal manager at Highbury.
His arrival at the North London was greeted with mixed feelings.
While some believed he should be given a shot at the job, others were complaintive of his inexperience as a manager of an English club.
“At first, I thought: What does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher . Does he even speak English properly?”, the then Arsenal captain, Tony Adams recounted.
Truly, the managerial slate of Le Professeur, as often called by fans, as a manager at “the home of football” was still blank. But, he had acquired enough knowledge that would bring success for him and the club.
Prior to his arrival at Arsenal, he had had stints as a manager of clubs in France and Japan.
In 1984, he became the manager of Nancy, a French club he helped attain a respectable 12th position in his first season; before leaving by mutual consent in 1987, when he was appointed as the manager of Monaco, where he managed the current President of Liberia, George Weah.
With the French side, he won the Ligue 1 title in his debut season and the Coupe de France in 1990/1991 season. On September 17, 1994, he was dismissed after a poor start to the season.
Three months later, he signed a two-year contract with Nagoya Grampus, a club based in Japan. A year later, his impressive methods of turning around the fortunes of the club earned him the Japanese League Manager of the Year award.
Few months later, his efforts were deservedly rewarded as he led the club to their first silverware acquisition after beating Sanfrecce Hiroshima to win the Emperor’s Cup.
His reputation slowly garnered more recognition after he defeated Yokohama Marinos to clinch the Super Cup.
His super achievements brought him more good as the then Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein chose to recommend him to the Arsenal board as Bruce Rioch’s successor instead of the former Barcelona player and manager, Johan Cruyff who was the favourite to land the job.
The board’s trust in him did not stop many fans from asking “Arsène, who?” But, decades later, many knew who Arsène was as his unprecedented longevity at the club, accompanied with accomplishments, especially during the first half of his career as the club’s manager, endeared him to many fans.
His 2-0 away victory over Blackburn Rovers on October 12, 1996 was a sign of things to come for The Gunners.
A run of nine consecutive league wins secured Arsenal’s status as the league champions. Days later, Wenger became the first foreign manager to win the stupendous double; after he led his team to an F.A. Cup triumph over Newcastle United in the 1998 F.A. Cup final.
The following seasons were not favourable for Le Professeur as he failed to win a single silverware for three years. His skills as one of the top managers in English football were once again validated in the 2001/2002 season when he won the double for the second time.
His victory at Old Trafford in the penultimate game of that season culminated an outstanding season for North London side.
A year later, Wenger had another season to remember as his side beat Chelsea 2-0 to win the F.A.Cup. In fact, that season, Arsenal’s attacking prowess was evident as the team scored in every league game and were unbeaten in all away games played.
Little wonder Wenger was so confident that he boasted during a press conference at the start of the 2002/2003 season when he said: “Nobody will finish above us in the league. It wouldn’t surprise me if we were to go unbeaten for the whole of the season.”
Although Arsenal retained the F.A. Cup that year, Wenger’s words backfired as he failed to win the title, not to talk of going unbeaten throughout the season.
To make such a huge statement, there was definitely something he saw in that team; and he was proven right the following season.
He was invincible as “The Invincibles” won the title without losing a contest. His side even went on to extend the run to 49 consecutive league games without a defeat.
The next season, he won the F.A. Cup; beating old rival Sir Alex Ferguson.
In the 2005/06 season, the transition began as the club finished fourth in the league, outside the top two for the first time since Wenger’s tenure started.
The season also marked the club’s final season at Highbury, a home ‘gooners’ and ‘goonerettes’ had loved.
However, the club had something to cheer about as Wenger’s side got to the final of the UEFA Champions League for the first time ever without conceding a goal in the knockout stages. Sadly, the English side lost 2-1 to Spanish side, FC Barcelona.
That defeat was the beginning of a torrid time for the French gentleman. In the summer of 2006, The Gunners’ relocation to Emirates Stadium prompted the club to make financial stability a priority over the team.
A year later, David Dein, the man who brought Wenger to Arsenal left the club and things began to fall apart. Experienced players left the club and Wenger replaced them with younger ones. Although, Wenger did well to develop the young talents to superstars, the club couldn’t hold on to them as many of them left for clubs of better reputation.
The team got to the final of the Carling Cup in 2011, but shockingly lost 2-1 to Birmingham City. No matter how close Wenger was to success, there was always a missing piece, if not more.
For almost ten years, Wenger did not lay his hands on any major trophy. A drought for him, one might say.
However, he managed to qualify the team for the illustrious UEFA Champions League competition, even though he was often knocked out of the competition.
However, the arrival of the then record signing, Mesut Ozil and the improved Aaron Ramsey’s goalscoring spree spurred on his team to end the trophy drought, as they came from two goals down to clinch a victory against Hull City in the FA Cup final.
A year later, he retained the trophy. And on May 27, 2017, he became the most successful manager in the history of the FA Cup after beating old rivals, Chelsea, in the final; making Arsenal the most successful club in the competition.
Months later, he won his 7th FA Community Shield as he beat Chelsea again.
Despite breaking Arsenal’s transfer record twice in the 2017/2018 season, the club failed to muster any challenge for major honour; as the team finished outside the top four for the second time in a row.
A fourth round FA Cup exit and another abysmal performance in the league signalled the beginning of the end of an era for the three-time Premier League Manager of the Season, the 1998 World Manager of the Year and 15-time Premier League Manager of the Month.
Despite his team being consistently inconsistent in his final years in charge of Arsenal, he never quit.
His decision to stay at the club, especially during his second decade at the club, wasn’t supported by many fans.
While many joined the ”Wenger Out Brigade”, others kept chanting “Arsene Knows Best” and “One Arsene Wenger”.
There were many “Wenger Out” protests over the years by fans who believed his time was up; but, he remained invincible to the scathing criticisms received from many fans and pundits, as he chose to renew his contract again and again.
Many believed he should have walked away last season after writing his name and that of the club in the history books of the FA Cup competition. But, he decided to sign a new two-year contract that would eventually end untimely.
With the level of apathy increasing amongst fans and some club officials, it was time for the invincible manager to bid farewell to a club he has been synonymous with.
It was time for an era to end!
On April 20, 2018, Arsène Wenger announced that he would step down as the manager of Arsenal at the end of the 2017/2018 season.
Although, the announcement was a delight to some of the fans who wanted him out, his contributions towards re-shapening the game of football in England cannot be overstated.
His famously entertaining ”Wenger ball”, his cool and calm idiosyncrasy during media briefings, his fatherly role to younger players who have developed under his tutelage over the years, his ‘fist celebration’ of goals, his suspicious smiles when responding to transfers rumours…and what about the hilarious ‘battles’ he always has with the zip of his long coat?
These and many more ‘Wengerisms’ will certainly be missed at Arsenal.
Although there are reports that he forcefully stepped down as the manager of Arsenal, which may not go down too well with the Wenger loyalists, there is no gain saying that The Gunners now needs another manager who will take the club to greater heights.
Nevertheless, Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal remains unblemished.
His record as the longest serving manager in England with 828 premier league games will for decades, if not forever, remain intact.
His tactical nous as a manager might have declined, but his immaculate personality cannot be questioned.
Comically, some people once believed that Arsène owns Arsenal.
Arsenal F.C….Arsène F.C! That only sums up how compatible the manager and club have been.
He is indeed a manager that deserves all the accolades he’s been receiving. He is an eminent manager that Arsenal will forever remember. He is a manager with a quintessential personality.
He is not just a manager, he is a father to many. He is the golden invincible manager.
Remember when he first came to England and people asked “Arséne, who?” Now, Arsène is known…and will be remembered.
Indeed, Arsenal fans can now say “MERCI ARSÈNE”!
Written by Adesuyi Adeola Ade Bob
Follow Adesuyi on Twitter @VoiceOfAdeBob
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