Arsene Wenger in Words
When the new Premier League season kicked off on the 10th of August, one familiar figure was missing from the line-up of new and old faces, as English football entered the post Arsene Wenger era. For Arsenal fans in particular, especially the younger ones who have known no other manager, they will have to get used to the sight of a new man, Unai Emry, on the bench, and, for some, have to find a new outlet for the anger and frustration that has divided and embittered the fan base for the past few years.
After nearly twenty-two years in charge, Le Professeur has gone, and now we can begin to take stock of his legacy.
Some amongst the Arsenal fans may feel this is too soon. Whilst his retirement – did he go or was he pushed is a question for another day – was greeted with almost universal outpourings of affection with fulsome tributes after the last home game against Burnley, and on the last day of the season at Huddersfield, that would be to gloss over what had happened immediately before. The fan apathy, the empty seats, supporters fighting each other in and out of the stadium, and the way that “Arsene Out” became a popular meme.
Many of them will think it is a like a long-standing marriage, where things got so bad towards the end, with mutual recrimination and bickering, to the extent that the couple had forgotten why they ever got together in the first place. They may need some time to reflect and to get over the “divorce” before they can give Wenger the appreciation he deserves.
More broadly, there is the sense that Arsene just stayed too long in the job, and was like an ageing movie star that was hoping for one last big part to put him back on top. The man himself has admitted as such in an interview earlier this month when asked his biggest regret ““Perhaps staying at the same club for 22 years. I’m someone who likes to move around a lot, but I also like a challenge. I’ve been a prisoner of my own challenge at times.”
However, as the dust begins to settle, it is good to look back and to relive his Arsenal career in his own words, and in those who played for and against him, and from some of his fiercest foes in the opposing dug-outs.
Arrival at Arsenal
When Arsene Wenger was appointed as manager of Arsenal in September 1996, the first reaction of many was “Arsene who?” At a time when the English game was much more insular and there was little access to foreign leagues on the television, few had head of the tall, bookish looking man who had won the French league title with Monaco, but was coaching in Japan when Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein approached him about taking over from Bruce Rioch.
Some were not impressed:
“At first, I thought: What does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a school teacher. He’s not going to be as good as George [Graham]. Does he even speak English properly?”
“They say he’s an intelligent man, right? Speaks five languages. I’ve got a 15-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast who speaks five languages.”
“He (Wenger) has no experience of English football. He’s come from Japan (!) and now he’s into English football and he is now telling everybody in England how to organise their football.
I think he should keep his mouth shut. Firmly shut.”
Wenger began to make immediate changes at Arsenal, introducing a new fitness regime, training methods and especially the players’ diet.
“What’s really dreadful is the diet in Britain. The whole day you drink tea with milk and coffee with milk and cakes. If you had a fantasy world of what you shouldn’t eat in sport, it’s what you eat here.”
After some resistance, the players began to see the benefits:
“I played under him for just under a year. It was the fittest I’ve ever been.”
“He gave me some of the best days of my footballing life, not just in the way he shaped preparation and suchlike, but my whole outlook.
What Arsene did was make me realise that what I was doing was the most important thing in the world and had to be totally, utterly, 100 per cent appreciated.
To me and many others, Arsene is such a GREAT man.
His whole philosophy changed the mindset and approach of lots and lots of players for the better.”
There is no doubt he changed the face of English football. He was the first. It was all him. His legacy is not only Arsenal based. It is English football-based because of where the game was when he came in and how clubs and players operated. The physiology side of the game, the social side, training – he came in and ripped up the handbook. Everybody said, “Who is this fella?” and the next minute they were all copying him.
“When Arsene came to Arsenal, he changed a lot of the eating habits and fitness regimes at the club.
“He was ahead of the game at that particular time. We took examples, as we always tried to take examples from anybody who was improving.”
With a new training regime, enhances tactical knowledge, an emphasis of attacking football, and the drafting in of foreign players such as Patrick Vieira, Manu Petit, Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka, and then later Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, the trophies began to accumulate in the Arsenal cabinet room. Two league and cup doubles, two FA Cups and then, the culmination of his achievement, the 2003 – 2004 Invincible season where Arsenal managed to go throughout the entire campaign unbeaten.
“To remain unbeaten in a championship like the English championship now is really unbelievable. I want to win the Champions League but, really, this is more important. It is something amazing, something special. How can you do it?”
The rivalry with Manchester United
Arsenal’s success also spawned one of the great rivalries of English football, as they and their manager went head to head with the previously dominant Manchester United and their irascible manager (Sir) Alex Ferguson. It was a bitterly fought rivalry which brought incidents like pizza-gate, the fight in the tunnel at Highbury, and the infamous Martin Keown – Ruud van Nistleroy clash.
It is fair to say that, at the time, there was a great degree of antipathy between the two teams.
“United against Arsenal was great for the game. It made the Premier League.
The Gaffer loved a challenge. He had to have somebody to fight. He had to have somebody to complain about. Arsenal. Arsenal. ARSENAL. WENGER!”
On Alex Ferguson’s claim that Manchester United were a better side than Arsenal in 2002: “Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home.”
“I had very, very, very heated moments with Sir Alex Ferguson but today I am very happy to see him and we share a good glass of red wine.
The move to The Emirates and the arrival of Jose Mourinho
The decision to leave Highbury and move to a new stadium half a mile away at The Emirates was very much Wenger’s and was undertaken with the aim of drawing in larger crowds and revenue to compete with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus on the European stage.
However, it coincided with the influx of new money into the game, particularly with Roman Abramovich and Chelsea, and, constrained by financial restrictions due to paying off the debt on the new stadium, Arsenal struggled to compete at the very top level.
That era also saw the arrival of another controversial figure in English football, Jose Mourinho. The Frenchman and the Portuguese were not slow to form a mutual dislike.
Eight years without silverware, that’s failure. “He’s a specialist in failure. If I do that in Chelsea, eight years, I leave and don’t come back.”
I think he is one of these people who is a voyeur. He likes to watch other people. There are some guys who, when they are at home, they have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. He speaks and speaks and speaks about Chelsea.”
I find it out of order, disconnected with reality and disrespectful. When you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid sometimes”
“I do not want to go into that silly, disrespectful remark. The only thing I know is it’s more embarrassing for Chelsea than for me. I’m embarrassed for him, honestly”
The trophy-less years
Between 2005 and 2014 Arsenal failed to win a single trophy. Gone were the superstars and instead. Not all Arsenal fans were happy with their changed circumstances.
“If you eat caviar every day, it’s difficult to return to sausages.”
Especially when their manager tried to redefine the meaning of success for them:
“The first trophy is to finish in the top four”
Some familiar phrases began to make themselves known:
“I feared that we could start with the handbrake on because of the pressure we are under”.
“I didn’t see it [the incident] as well, from the stands.”
Return to winning ways
Arsenal returned to winning ways in 2014, when they came from two goals down to beat Hull City in the FA Cup final. Two more cups in three years followed, making Arsenal the most successful side in FA Cup history, and Wenger the first man to win seven cups as manager.
Despite this, League success proved elusive, and, ironically enough, it was the season that Arsenal achieved their highest League position for a decade, when finishing second, that sowed the seeds of the end for Wenger at Arsenal. A runners-up spot would have been fine were it behind a team like Manchester City, United, Liverpool or Chelsea, all better resourced with stronger squads. The fact, however, that they trailed to Leicester City, and failed to take advantage of a season when all their main rivals struggled, convinced many amongst the fan base that the Frenchman could no longer guide them to the success they craved, and the schisms and arguments began.
After more than a decade of Champions League football as well, the team slipped out of the top four, and with Europa League football already confirmed for the 2018 – 2019 season again, Wenger announced he would leave the club in April.
That sparked a wave of tributes from many former players and fans.
“He is the greatest manager in the history of Arsenal football club,” He is above Herbert Chapman and all of the guys who won trophies. Arsene is not only the greatest manager in Arsenal’s history; he has personally changed the face of the game in this country.”
“Arsene Wenger built the best teams that I played against in English Football .The 98 team was Amazing. The biggest compliment is that he played football that made us change the way we played against them.”
“We had the same idea about football; we like the creative style of football, the attacking style of football and off the pitch we like the discipline to give everything for football.”
I will always see you as my footballing father where under your guidance I had the chance to grow as a man and a player, i’m forever thankful for that and wish you all the very best for the next chapter in your life! #ThanksArsene #TheBoss 2/2 pic.twitter.com/ekhFNfExvN
— Robin van Persie (@Persie_Official) April 20, 2018
“To the man who gave me my chance as a 16 year old, and showed unbelievable faith and commitment towards me. Always a gentleman, like a father through tough times in my career. He always believed in me when most people didn’t. Thank you for everything boss!”
“Arsène Wenger, thank you for all the achievements, over such a long period, for the club I love.
Three Premier League titles, the unbeaten season, a record breaking seven FA Cups and revolutionising the English game.”
“It’s not an easy thing to just call a day. He loves to be on the grass, smelling grass, he has a vision and he’s a visionary. He always thinks his team can achieve things and thinks his team can achieve what he wants.”
“I am really happy for Arsene Wenger, I have great respect for him and for the job he has done at Arsenal. It is great testament to his talent, professionalism and determination that he has been able to dedicate 22 years of his life to a job that he loves.
“In an era where football managers sometimes only last one or two seasons, it shows what an achievement it is to serve that length of time at a club the size of Arsenal.
He is, without doubt, one of the greatest Premier League managers and I am proud to have been a rival, a colleague and a friend to such a great man.”
Other famous Arsene Wenger quotes
“Have Tottenham closed the gap on Arsenal? Last time I checked they were still 4 miles and 11 titles away.”
“I tried to watch the Tottenham match on television in my hotel yesterday, but I fell asleep.”
On his football philosophy:
“We do not buy superstars. We make them.”
“A football team is like a beautiful woman. When you do not tell her, she forgets she is beautiful.”
“When I arrive at the gates of Heaven the Good Lord will ask ‘what did you do in your life?’ I will respond ‘I tried to win football matches.’ He will say: ‘Are you certain that’s all?’ But, well, that’s the story of my life.”
Andy is an exiled English football fan living in Cyprus. He loves all sports but football is his abiding passion, and he still has dreams every now and then about scoring the winning goal in a Wembley Cup Final, even though his playing days are long gone. He follows most major leagues, across Europe at least, and has a favoured team in each. When he’s not watching, listening, reading or downloading podcasts about football, he spend his time worrying about his beloved Arsenal.