After 22 years, one of the most influential people in British and European football has coached his final game as the manager of Arsenal Football Club.
In truth, Wenger could have been our Man of the Weekend last weekend, but like he, himself noted in his emotional farewell speech at The Emirates Stadium, our thoughts should be with his old rival, Sir Alex whilst he recovers in hospital. Ever the gentleman and occasionally the fiery leader on the touchline that the likes of Fergie, Mourinho and Alan Pardew would clash with, Arsene Wenger changed British football for the better.
His arrival in 1996 was during a transitional stage for many of the players in a Premier League that will still in it’s infancy. In some respect, the new influx of money from TV rights and sponsors, wasn’t being matched by the professionalism of the players. A drinking culture ran through the sport, still not shaken off from the 1970s and 80s, as well as a lack of care about diet and above all, wellbeing. But, this tall, skinny, spectacled Frenchman walked into Arsenal, nicknamed by the press as Le Professeur for his appearance and deeper intellect about the game, and he changed everything.
At their peak under Wenger, Arsenal were the finest side in Europe and playing football to match that status. Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Pires. The way such players were knocking the ball around, displaying pace and technique in unison – as well as showing toughness and grit when called upon by arch rivals, Manchester United. It was only they who could challenge United’s world beaters and through a famous double in 1998 and an entirely unbeaten season in 2004, they established themselves as one of the greatest sides in English football history.
Fast forward to the next decade and the mood shifts. A borderline toxic relationship with some of the fans, feeling as if he overstayed his welcome, lead to ‘Wenger Out’ becoming an almost memeworthy phrase. Suddenly the man who had given them so much, least of all their current, gleaming new stadium, wasn’t the man for the job.
And now, finally, some hardline Gooners have got what they’ve been asking for as Arsene Wenger steps out of the Arsenal dugout. For many supporters, he has been the manager for their whole life of fandom. Seeing someone else managing a team of the red side of North London will be surreal.
However, this final weekend as the manager of Arsenal – one that produced their first away win of 2018 – was the final chance to say thank you for the good times. To say thank you for changing the club, changing the league and changing the way an entire nation was to think about football. Aubameyang’s goal sealed a victory for Arsenal at Huddersfield, but whether or not the Gunners got three points this weekend, Arsene Wenger had to be the man of it.