Merci et Au Revoir, Arsene (La Saison en Revue, Aussi)

Photo: Getty Images

So, here we are, then. Finally, after a solid century or so (it feels like it, anyway) of tedious intra-fanbase warfare, we stand on the precipice of our next Brave New World: Anno Domini 1 in the Post-Arsene Era, etc and so on.

Well, until they get around to announcing Mikel Arteta as the replacement, anyway…a move that one half of the aforementioned warring parties is already taking with the expected levels of good grace and reasoned thought.


Now that the great man is truly being dragged off into the sunset, it feels anti-climactic in a way, much like this season did by Boxing Day or so. All of that in-fighting, all of the plane-borne banners, the angry Tweets, the gallons of ink spilled (virtual and otherwise) about whether this was the time to get rid, and it doesn’t feel all that different in the end. “We’re out of Coke, is Pepsi OK?”. Sure.

Still, had you told me that we’d be sat here discussing Arsene Wenger’s legacy and/or replacement at precisely the moment when Thibaut Courtois’ comedy Community Shield penalty was rocketing towards the stratosphere, I’d have sagely nodded while waiting for the best moment to call the men in the white coats.

Then again, if you told me that after we face-planted to two straight losses soon after – including against a dead-club-walking Stoke City side – I’d have been a more receptive audience.

The thing is, we all know the massive improvements that Wenger brought to the English game. In fact, I’d argue that all of this money and glitz and worldwide recognition wouldn’t have happened (at least not to this extent) without Arsene paving the way. In a sense, I don’t know if anyone in the history of all football has been so thoroughly hoisted by their own petard. Beaten by well-drilled pressing sides that would never have been fit enough to play that way 15 years ago, managed by foreign coaches who would have never gotten a look in back then either. It must drive him mad, in his private moments.

While most of us in Arsenal NYC have only ever known Arsene-nal, I do pre-date him…just. As one of our resident Old Persons, I remember what the football was like back then. It’s not something I’m desperate to relive in a hurry, that’s for sure. One game that always sticks in my mind from the 1997-98 Double season was a home match against Blackburn Rovers where we got absolutely tonked – 1-3 was a flattering scoreline on the day. Arguably the nadir of the campaign, against a club that finished a solid 6th place in the end. The kicker, though? That Rovers team was AWFUL by today’s standards.

To wit:

(4-4-2) Tim Flowers – Jeff Kenna, Stephane Henchoz, Colin Hendry, Gary Croft – Billy McKinlay, Stuart Ripley, Tim Sherwood, Jason Wilcox – Kevin Gallacher, Chris Sutton

So, what we’re talking here is England’s No. 3 in goal, one upper-middle class defender in Hendry, massive thundercunt Sutton (who was a pretty good player, hate to say), and THAT’S IT. That lot would have been eviscerated by Huddersfield this season. THIS is what Arsene saved us from, even if it was to his own personal detriment later in his career. They should name the ground after him just for the fact that we don’t have to watch 2018’s Tim Sherwood equivalent play Premier League football alone. When you’re grading the man on his later years, remember that the mid-to-lower classes back then didn’t have players like Xherdan Shaqiri or Richarlison or Wilifred Zaha running around. It’s a different world now.

That brings me back to my point about his role in ushering in this modern era of Premier League football. Would the league have expanded its footprint to Asia, the US, and elsewhere to the extent that it has if it still featured the agricultural hoofball of days gone by? Would the league have been this attractive a prospect to TV partners (in turn bringing in the crazy money that allows a Watford to have a player like Richarlison) if Wenger hadn’t shown the way with Bergkamp and Henry and Pires and Vieira, etc and so on? Not bloody likely. Would Arsene have had it this rough in his declining years if the league hadn’t become this much of a rock fight mostly due to teams like Watford having players like Richarlison? Here too, not bloody likely.

Any look back at Arsene’s legacy also has to consider his mortal enemy. Batman and the Joker, Seinfeld and Newman, Ric Flair and Sting…whatever metaphor you choose, Arsene’s story is forever intertwined with Alex Ferguson’s. An entire era of Premier League football that reduced all and sundry else to mere footnotes, the slips of paper in the Playbill saying that such-and-such understudy will be playing the part of the Phantom for this Thursday matinee. I did an interview for the BBC World Radio right after the final whistle against Burnley, and all I remember saying is how Arsene was the only one who ever truly punched Ferguson’s teams in the mouth. People forget this now, but the rest of the league wilted in old Taggart’s presence to a preposterous and embarrassing degree. Referees, other teams, it was appalling. Thank you for visiting, sir. Here are your three points, sir. My god, it makes me so angry all these years later. Get fucked, all of you.

I thought about those days a lot as we were losing at Old Trafford yet again right after the capitulation in Madrid, just as I did earlier in the season when we lost to them at home, too. Just another little sign that Arsene’s powers, waning in these past few years to be sure, were well and truly gone.

It feels awful to say, but you can’t honestly talk about said legacy without pointing out the moments this season that showed just to what degree his continued presence was frittering it away. The FA Cup, long his signature competition on Albion’s shores, signed off on with a ridiculous defeat to an awful Nottingham Forest side at the first hurdle. Away draws to Southampton, West Ham and West Bromwich Albion, crisis clubs for different reasons. A nothing-doing away loss in the NLD. The 3-3 vs. Liverpool that we should have won. Away losses to Watford, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Swansea and even fucking Ostersunds. Hardly a murderer’s row, innit?

It feels almost like blasphemy to say it, but in some respects Arsene was never the same after Sam Allardyce’s Bolton teams sussed out how to beat him on the road. Yes, I just threw up a bit in my mouth, too. Even Superman had his kryptonite, I suppose.

Let’s not forget the now-customary false dawns, while we’re on the subject. The home win in the NLD, the 5-2 against Everton, the Europa League ties against AC Milan and CSKA Moscow…all made us hope once again that the corner had been turned for good.

Oh, and don’t neglect his reputation as something of a nearly-man…that CV updated this season with the League Cup final and the Europa semifinals, both ending in losses to clubs that personified just how past his sell-by date Arsene truly was by the end. The funny thing is both were not even close to his worst losses in either side of it (if we count the EL and the CL together) – neither within visual distance of THAT Birmingham game or THAT Barcelona game. Arsene will be remembered for the trophies he won, but he’ll be remembered just as much for the ones he didn’t (and, if you look back with a critical eye, he should have taken more off of Ferguson than he did, too).

On the whole, though, you have to mark down Arsene much further in credit than in demerit…and frankly only a churlish asshole would disagree. We do seem to have no shortage of those these days, however. That’s the funny thing, now that I think back some more on the past and where we’ve been. All we apparently wanted during the austerity years was money spent on big-name players – then Mesut Ozil comes in, and half the Gooner massive were conned by idiots like John Cross and Neil Ashton that he was nicking a living. You can only truly fathom the depths of Arsene’s love for the club when you consider how long he stuck around in the face of things like this.

Another point I find in his favor is that once it became apparent that the end was coming, he started making tangible steps to clear the decks for the next guy, to leave him in as good a nick as possible for what will be a challenging-at-best transition. Not bad for a guy who had the knock on him (mostly true) that we did the same old shit for too long. Bringing in first Alex Lacazette and then Pierre-Erick Aubameyang, both on silly money (and the second involving the departure of a favorite in Olivier Giroud) has left us with a potent attack for the next manager to leverage. Those two, with Ozil supplying them in the right system, can do a significant amount of damage.

And there, in the end, is the reason why I’m quietly hopeful for next season. As much as I love the guy and as influential as he was, my honest assessment is that Arsene himself has been the one holding us back for ages. Despite what the Twitter mouth-breathers will say, most of the personnel to me isn’t a problem (though I admit a shiny new goalkeeper would not go amiss). I can’t say who’s staying or going next season…but if they stick around, just wait and see with players like Shkdoran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka. A little direction, a more coherent system around them? I suspect that many of us will be surprised.

That, of course, brings it back to the likelihood that Arteta will be the next manager. On the face of it, I don’t like it. We’re a big club, and it’s been too long in my opinion since we acted like it. Back up a dump truck full of money at Max Allegri’s house, and I assume he wouldn’t be THAT bothered about working within our new management structure. All we can do as supporters, though, is *gasp* SUPPORT whoever does come in, whether we think they’re going to do the business or not. If we’re in 6th or 7th by Christmas next year? Great, have a moan! I know I will! But before a ball has been kicked? Fuck alllllllllllllllllllllll the way off with that, my guy.

Those are concerns for another time, though. A great man has left us at the end of this season – that is indisputable. But, the sun still comes up at the beginning of each day. There’s still an Arsenal Football Club, there’s still a Premier League and a Europa League to fight for next season, and there’s still a bloody great club for us to support. Thank you for everything, Arsene. We’ve got it from here.