Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday September 28 2006
And what a ten years it has been. When Monsieur Wenger arrived at Arsenal I was a wide eyed twelve year old, the question pressed onto my lips was in unison with the now notorious Evening Standard headline, ARSENE WHO? The trophy laiden years of George Graham had met an abrupt conclusion and the Gunners seemed to be meandering, a club devoid of direction. On the last day of the 1995/96 season, Arsenal scraped into fifth place and a UEFA Cup slot, remember how you felt that day? Like we'd won the World Cup wasn't it? To put Arsene into perspective, that means that upon his arrival we were in the shape that Tottenham Hotspur is currently in. Anyone willing to wager they will be Champions League Finalists in 2016?
Given my reputation for turning a simple match report into something Tolstoy would baulk at, I have decided in the interests of time, space and sanity to simply list my ten favourite things about the great Arsene Wenger.
1.Revolution- Simply he has turned this football club upside down. Not just in terms of our style of play (more on that later). Wenger's has been an all consuming, obsessive vision to metamorphosise Arsenal from domestic also rans to European power house. The justified 'boring Arsenal' tag has been usurped so totally that Arsenal are widely recognised as the most attractive side in world football. Gooners of around my age and particularly older Gooners will tell you just how incredible this is. The brisk, passing total football we see today is such an astounding contrast to our past that one can only deduce that modern day Arsenal is built ENTIRELY in Arsene's image. A new stadium, an academy that has nurtured the finest young talents in world football, a change in the Arsenal drinking culture, his dietary regimes and revolutionary training techniques (which has had a knock on effect for English football in general) have all turned Arsenal into Champions League regulars. We are now a club revered in all of Europe. Zagreb manager Josip Kuze said this, 'A.C Milan and Chelsea are first class, but Arsenal are deluxe class.'
2.Trophies- Wenger's tenure has bought us three league titles and four F.A Cups, (including two domestic 'doubles') an impressive haul. We were within a whisker of the Champions League Final and became the first side of modern times to complete a season unbeaten. But the truly remarkable thing is the manner in which we have achieved it, with a pyrotechnic brand of football that is the envy of the world.
3.Eye For Talent- Little did we know when Arsene signed Patrick Vieira that he was just flexing those razor sharp retinas. He has plucked the best players from all corners of the globe and bought Africa to the attention of the world as a footballing goldmine. Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Kolo Toure, in fact, oh sod it, the entire current Arsenal squad. An exciting crop of youngsters have been plucked from the trees of the world's noneties and are bearing fruit in our current first team. Prior to his Arsenal stint, Lilian Thuram, David Trezeguet and George Weah owe much to Arsene.
4.Changed Perception of Foreigners- The cynicism and derision which his arrival was met was largely due to a genuine lack of cosmopolitan influence on the game. Foreigners were considered mercenaries (some unfortunately maintain this attitude) prior to his arrival. He has preserved the traditions of our institution (notably our 'Bank of England' image) and changed our club inestimably for the better.
5.The Players' Coach- Try and dig out a player with a bad word for Arsene Wenger. Give up? His influence is most neatly chrystalized by George Weah (whom Wenger took into his home to aid his development), who dedicated his world player of the year trophy to Wenger. He sticks up for his players no matter what (for which he is ridiculed mercilessly). In turn, his players respect him. I've always loved the fact that the players call him 'Mr. Wenger.'
6.Dignity- While he is oft criticised for comical bouts of myopia, Arsene is a man who carries himself with dignity. In fact, to the point that he has been so uncomfortable with gushing prose such as this in recognition of his ten years. The departures of Anelka and C**e would have been met with a deserved tongue lashing by most, but Arsene maintained a dignified silence. I have a picture at home of the Arsenal players cavorting with the Premiership trophy, Arsene is in the background, tucking his medal into his pocket and smiling towards his players. Pictures tell a thousand words.
7.Wit- Wenger is not often credited with his keen wit. My favourite Arsene gem has to be his response to Ferguson's assertion that Man USA were the best side in England, 'everybody thinks he has the prettiest wife.' Class. Another favourite is his Swiss Tonyesque quip, 'A football team is like a beautiful woman, if you don't tell her she is beautiful, she forgets.' And most laughably of all, 'I think we can do a season unbeaten.' AS IF!!!
8.Records- 49 Premiership matches without defeat, Scoring in 55 Consecutive League Games, First Foreign Manager to win 'The Double', 10 Consecutive Clean Sheets in the Champions League, Old Trafford 2002, White Hart Lane 2004, the first English side to win in the Bernebeu, 5-1 in the San Siro, Most Black Plyers in the starting line up of an English side (nine) and more controversially, forst English side to play with an all foreign 16. Trailblazer, record breaker and liberal icon.
9.Footie Obsession- The guy just lives and breathes the game, resulting in an encyclopaedic knowledge of world football. My particular favourite in this category is how he came to sign Brazilian full back Juan. He saw him when he was watching beach football on TV at 2 o'clock in the morning!!!
10.Fell Asleep Watching Spuds- A subtle and most hilarious way to get onside with your fans right from the off. Upon his appointment, Arsene was asked about his knowledge of English Football, he commented that he'd tried to watch Tottenham v. Leicester but fell asleep. Don't worry Arsene, us lesser mortals have stumbled that particular hurdle too!
So there you have it, not a dry in the house as I grapple to come to terms with the divine entity that is Arsene. A day for grovelling sentimentality and nostalgia. Cheers Arsene and here's to the next ten years. LD.
Date:Thursday September 28 2006
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