I first got an Arsenal season ticket in 1996. Three months later Arsène Wenger joined the club– he’s been there ever since, and so have I, through two different stadiums, three league titles, two European finals and more FA Cup victories than any other manager in history. The man has dominated my life as an Arsenal supporter, for better and for worse. He’s one of the greatest managers the club has ever – will ever – have. But the news of his departure brings nothing but relief.
Relief because the last 10 years of his 22 at Arsenal have felt like a gradual decline for a club used to challenging for the title – lifting it around every decade on average. But also relief because it’s come with three home games still to come. Three games at the stadium he helped to build where rather than pitiful Wenger Out signs, rows of empty seats and grumbling, the Arsenal faithful can give the man the send-off he deserves.
Wenger to leave Arsenal at end of season – video report
Those with short memories may only remember the disappointing second half of his reign (a period that still includes three FA Cup wins and a second place Premier League finish). But what I’ll remember as he leaves are the first appearance of Patrick Vieira at Highbury, a month before Wenger joined the club, but very much his signing. A beautiful, long-legged herald of what was to come. That 1998 league-winning run of victories, marrying the old back five with a dynamic attacking style that took England by storm, ending of course in the perfect emblem of what Wenger the coach could do. A perfect pass from Steve Bould through to Tony Adams to wrap up the title against Everton.
What followed was an epic battle between Wenger and Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, with the two clubs trading blows both on the pitch and off it, finishing first or second for seven years, and some of the best games of football the Premier League has seen. He’ll be remembered for leading a side unbeaten through a whole season, and 49 league games in total, as he rightly should, but early-Wenger’s achievements go so much further. From unearthing gems such as Nicolas Anelka and Cesc Fàbregas for almost nothing, to prolonging the careers of the best defensive unit the country has ever seen.
Arsenal fans won’t forget or ignore the stasis the club seems to have been in since the stadium move, but Wenger still leaves the club in a strong position. A hungry squad that a new manager may be able to draw more out of, cash rich, maybe even a route back in to the promised land of the Champions League.
Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal honours
Premier League (3): 1997-98, 2001-02, 2003-04.
FA Cup (7): 1997-98, 2001-02, 2002-03, 2004-05, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2016-17.
Community Shield (6): 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2002-03, 2004-05, 2014-15, 2015-16.
Premier League Manager of the Season (3): 1997-98, 2001-02, 200-/04.
League Managers’ Association Manager of the Year (2): 2001-02, 2003-04.
BBC Sports Personality Coach of the Year (2): 2002, 2004.
Premier League Manager of the Month (15)
And what a way to end his time at the club. A European final, in France, a victory to bring with it not only a return to Europe’s top table for the club, but also a first for Wenger during his time at the club. It would be a fitting reward for a man who brought so much joy to Arsenal fans – and football fans at large. Just two legs against Atlético Madrid to come, what could possibly go wrong?
First comes West Ham on Sunday, where Arsenal fans must pack the stadium and cheer this great man to the rafters. We may be happy he’s leaving, but that shouldn’t stop us cheering him one last time.