I have been following Arsenal since about 1998. In the beginning I knew very little about the club and it's history. In fact, like many back then who were new to following the team, I initially thought that Arsene Wenger's name was somehow related to the team he managed.
All these years later I now consider myself an Arsenal aficionado. I have been to England on a number of occasion to see Arsenal play live: including Highbury, The Emirates, away at Charlton, Leeds in the FA Cup and Southampton. The first goal I saw live was a penalty from Marc Overmars to give Arsenal a 0-1 victory away at The Valley after Patrick Vieira had received a red card. I also got to witness live two of Thierry Henry's eight Arsenal hat tricks including a 7-0 mauling of Middlesbrough during the final season at Highbury. Other highlights including being there to see Tony Adams score in a 6-1 romp over Leicester (somehow I was able to scalp a ticket on the tube on the way to Highbury) and witnessing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain score a brace in a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace (he only scored nine league goals for the club).
I very rarely, if ever, miss an Arsenal match. Being on the other side of the Atlantic this often involved getting up at the crack of dawn, sneaking out of work for extended "lunch" breaks and watching matches on dodgy illegal streams on the computer. This is in recent years. Back in the early days before Fox Soccer Channel came along I would often find myself out at one of the only sports bars in NYC that broadcast the sport via Setanta Sports. Back then you would often have to pay a cover charge just to enter and watch. Regardless these places were always packed with singing and drinking fans.
There were plenty of great moments and enjoyable victories over the past 20 years of following Arsenal. The one constant has been Arsene Wenger.
Since this is my personal blog I am stating how I feel and don't really care about those that have lampooned and criticized the manager unmercifully in recent years.
When I first began following the EPL, Arsenal and Manchester United were the powerhouses. It was always Fergie versus Wenger. The two teams were pretty equal back then. There were some epic matches between the two sides and the rest of the league was pretty much secondary to these two.
Chelsea and Liverpool were always tough competition but Arsenal always seemed to have the edge.
As far as Tottenham goes, they were (and possibly still are) a distant second to their North London neighbors. The fact that Spurs have only finished above Arsenal twice during the Wenger reign pretty much is proof of the Gunners' domination.
Power started to shift when billionaire owners began purchasing teams. Roman Abramovich brought his Russian oil money to Chelsea and Sheikh Mansour poured his fortune in to Manchester City. That has changed the landscape significantly. City ran away with the league this season and were very impressive. It's hard for me to truly respect what they have done as they have essentially purchased the league. Those new to following the league thing of City as a powerhouse. Those of us who know the history, remember when City were constantly being relegated, promoted and then relegated with their famous Bermudian striker Shawn Goater.
Arsenal have slid over the past few seasons and have finished outside the top four for the second year in a row. Wenger has been vilified for the team's shortcomings and is ultimately the reason that he is moving on.
I personally believe that many of those that have chased the man out of the club are going to have second thoughts moving forward. Yes coming in fifth and sixth is not the same as winning the league. However, in 22 seasons these are the worst two that Arsenal have ever experienced. If finishing 5th and 6th is as bad as it gets, then we really don't have it that bad. Look at clubs like Leeds, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Everton, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, West Ham, Newcastle, etc. Ask the fans of any of those teams if they would trade places with Arsenal. The answer is YES. I also seem to recall Chelsea finishing tenth just a few seasons ago.
Everyone blaming the manager must realize that the owners are more to blame than the guy taking the questions at the press conference. If the powers that be don't spend the money, nothing is going to change. So, rather than look at the shortcomings of the club, I think what Wenger has achieved is AMAZING.
- 3 Premier League titles - 1997-1998, 2001-2002, 2003-2004
- 7 FA Cups - 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2014, 2015, 2017 (3 over the past four seasons)
- 7 Community Shields - 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2014, 2015, 2017
- 3 Premier League Manager of the Season wins - 1998, 2002, 2004
- Getting to the Champions League and finishing in the top four for 20 straight seasons
Wenger's final act proved he is pure class as a person. Following his last home match as manager he was handed the microphone. Instead of talking about himself, he spoke of his players, the club and the fans.
Thank you for having me for so long, but I am like you, I am an Arsenal fan. That means it’s more than just watching football, it’s a way of life, it is caring about the beautiful game, the values that we cherish. I invite you to really support the players and the staff that remain behind me. Please support them next season because they deserve it. I want to finish one simple word I will miss you. Thank you all for having such an important part of my life, thank you all, well done, bye bye.
My love for Arsenal will go on. However, there's a bit of sadness knowing that Arsene Wenger will no longer be the man in charge. It was definitely time for a change, but that doesn't mean that Wenger's time was not special and he will be missed.