It seems somewhat appropriate that my first post in what feels like 22 years is about Arsene Wenger leaving Arsenal and whilst I am sure it is a topic that has already been done to death, I feel just as entitled to have a say as almost everyone else that has written about it.
Despite being constantly reminded that I am not as young as I often like to think I am, Wenger is the only Arsenal manager I have ever really know. I started properly following football in during the 1996/97 season and when pushed I typically say the 1997/98 was my first season as an Arsenal fan proper. It is fair to say that my early years as a fan of a football club were rather special.
You do not need me to detail the barren years, it was a very long time for a club the size of Arsenal to not win anything but I will say that it was not until this season that I felt it really was, unquestionably, time for Wenger to leave. I try to be an ‘honest’ football, and I am not one to flip flop between opinions. Even in the last couple of seasons as the support for #WengerOut has increased, I was a strong Wenger apologist. And even now, and throughout this season, I bear no ill feelings towards Wenger. Nothing in football would have made me happier than to see Arsenal win another league trophy under Wenger but this season spelt out very clearly that we were not even a team that had plateaued under Wenger, but that we were in fact a club in decline.
So when Wenger announced that this season would be his last, I was a weird muddle of emotions. Confused, surprised, pleased, sad. The only Arsenal manager I, and plenty of others, have ever known will no longer be at the helm of the club I support and, hopefully announced shortly, someone-else will be. And it’s a nervous prospect.
I’ll talk more about the future manager in the days to come, for this post I want to concentrate on Wenger.
It is clear that his ability to compete with the very best in the world has dried up some. Whilst I am able to look back on the rivalry between Wenger and Sir Alex quite fondly, there is very little positive to take from his match ups against Mourinho, at both Chelsea and United, whilst we have had very inconsistent results against other top six sides over the last number of seasons.
That said, as a man, you can only have positive things to say about Wenger. Unlike most people in football, Wenger has been very articulate about issues affecting, primarily, football but also wider society. And whilst at times his English means the phrases come out slightly odd, he typically responds to questions and issues with well thought out and deliberate intentions.
It has been a weird and, in many ways, confusing period since Arsene announced he would be leaving, and it has taken me some time to get my head around it. I guess what it all boils down to is this: is it the right thing? And I think the answer is yes. Yes not just for the club, and the fans. But yes for the man. Yes for Arsene himself. Maybe it was not his decision but hopefully with time and distance the entire fan base can look back on his time here fondly. And I hope Arsene is able to move on and enjoy his life, because he has definitely earned it.