An ode to Arsene- from a winner to a whiner!
I was an avid football follower as a kid- but interest would generally peak in the World Cup year. There weren’t a plethora of TV channels those days. So my love for club football was fueled by a small radio I got as a birthday gift. Saturday evenings changed forever- holding that archaic device close to the ear- following Sports Roundup on BBC and soaking in the EPL spirit.
Brazil is the team I support (no, worship!). So it was no surprise that I began rooting for the club whose playing style most resembled the Sambas- Arsenal. One big reason was also the manager- a misfit ‘Professor’ who had plied his trade in Japan before making the big move to Highbury. Good matches are made in heaven, but imagine the coincidence when the name of the manager also matches with the club he leads- so no surprise that Arsenal flourished under Arsene.
When Arsene ‘numb’ed us….
Here was Wenger- a visionary who looked much beyond the game itself, into other aspects of sports fitness- on eating habits and training methods- ages before his times. There was also a sense of magic the way the team played- slick passes, one touch play- so easy on the eye and different from the long ball game of the Brits. And the fierce determination and passion he drove among the players. Here was a team who could ‘wow’ you with their skills but also rough out 1-0 away wins on ice cold December evenings.
Wenger created a legacy by leading ‘The Invincibles’ in 2003/04 to an unbeaten EPL run- a feat which may go unmatched in history given the fierce rivalry in the league these days. Wiltord’s away goal at Old Trafford to clinch the EPL title, that glorious run into the Champions League final in 2006- those were the days!
He stayed the course and led the ship well even during troubled times when Arsenal moved from Highbury to the Emirates. With an eager eye for spotting talent early and using a shrewd ‘Money-ball’ approach, Wenger would buy early, buy smart and manage the club remarkably well during tough financial times.
There were many heart-warming moments during the ‘Comfortably Numb Days’- but I am sharing a link of a goal which best embodies Wenger’s philosophy- A Wilshere goal vs Norwich city.
When Arsene ‘dumb’ed us….
As an Arsenal fan, I am in minority these days- there are a few of us left and we are worried we will be extinct soon!
And I start reflecting on why this happened? When Wenger moved- from numbing us to ‘dumbing’ us.
A good friend once said, ‘You are only as good as your ambitions. Set high ambitions, actions follow’. Well, I guess no one told this to Arsene. In the last five years, he is like the lazy employee in the office who is happy with an ‘Achieved Expectations’ rating every year. A fourth place in EPL and a ‘Last 16’ spot in the Champions League seems to make him happy, with an occasional FA Cup win thrown in- while the fans hope for more, much, much more.
The Emirates move meant we had to manage our financial books very tightly for some time- but Arsenal under Arsene got engulfed in this ‘Money-ball fallacy’- when the bottom line became more important that the ‘trophy line’. From a buying club, we became a selling club- why else will you sell your best players- the likes of Van Persie to your closest rival in the league? When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys! Or, you may get a Walcott, Ramsey, or Ospina- nothing better.
They say, ‘It’s foolish to do the same things again and again- and expect different results’. Arsene has been doing just that for the last few years, so no wonder Arsenal have stagnated.
There are a few who have mastered the ‘Art of Leaving’- some went ahead of time like Borg, some timed it perfectly- like Dada and MSD. But some are just too unwilling to let go- Arsene has created this club brick by brick in the last 20 years- his managerial stay more than the combined experienced of the other 19 EPL managers put together! So the swansong is indeed difficult. But when you stop inspiring, it’s the clearest sign that you have to go.
Another EPL season draws to a close. A season which promised so much for Arsene and Arsenal, but we flattered to deceive again.
The debate is on- “In Arsene We Trust” vs “Arsene Out”. He has given us wonderful memories, shaped a generation, so bidding adieu is tough. But the time has indeed come now.
So Au Revoir Arsene- thanks for numbing us!
A Passionate Gunner