When he was King
This post has been a few days in the making as I was away on holiday when Arsene Wenger announced he would be leaving Arsenal last Friday. I suppose you could say it's been a number of years in the making really. I wrote my first "Wenger Out" piece on the Online Gooner website long before I'd even considered having my own blog. For me the worm turned when he made William Gallas the Arsenal Captain ahead of Gilberto Silva or Kolo Toure. It's been a long 11 years since that. If you will forgive I will save a proper "tribute" piece to Arsene until the end of the season. I have plenty to thank him for but I'll wait to see if there might yet be even one more special Wenger triumph in May.
When I got a phone-call from my brother last Friday morning to tell me the news I was in Disneyland Paris. I can honestly say that the news made an already very bright mood even brighter. It almost felt like a relief, something that I knew should have happened a long time ago, something that should have been announced weeks ago if it was to happen this season. There can be no doubt that Wenger going has to be the best for both him and Arsenal now. The empty stands in recent months will certainly have had an impact on the Kroenke's and even Arsene isn't so myopic as to not see something was badly wrong. By the time the evening came round and I was back in the hotel I started to catch up with the internet and read the tributes and testimonials, the recollections and the great memories. It started to make me feel emotional. Suddenly the depth of what had been announced started to strike me. Arsene Wenger has been at Arsenal for 22 years this year. Apart from my family and Arsenal itself he is the most constant figure in my life. He has been the boss since before I became an adult. What we are faced with, no matter how much I know it to be the right thing, is almost totally unknown to a generation of Arsenal supporters. We simply aren't used to a change of manager at our club. I almost had a feeling of "what have we done?" Almost. Arsenal may actually take a step of two back (especially if the next appointment is a bad one) before we move forward again. I actually believe that Wenger leaving is only part of a triumvirate of departures that is necessary - the majority shareholder and the CEO need to follow him.
I have no doubt that there has been a dialogue between Ivan Gazidis (at the instruction of Josh and Stan Kroenke) and Arsene to discuss the fact that things are coming to an end. At the same time I do not accept he has been "sacked" in the popular sense of the word. Reading David Ornstein's piece on the BBC website (the only journalist with any inside knowledge of what goes on at Arsenal) it is clear that Arsene has reluctantly agreed it is time, but agreed nonetheless. What he did by making his shock statement was to steal the glory Gazidis so badly wanted for himself. That can be the only reason for Gazidis to call the most bizarre press conference on Friday afternoon. That was a pure vanity exercise from the CEO who had no real power to get rid of Arsene unless the Kroenke's said so. He has been able to chip away, rightly, at the absolute power Wenger had over Arsenal with the appointments made during this season, preparing the way for Wenger to be replaced. It amazes me now that so many people seem to see Gazidis, a smarming liar who always has the right words in public, as the saviour and arbiter of truthful facts. It actually worries me that he is the man charged with finding the right replacement.
The way Wenger made the announcement, with no prior speculation in the media, was a throwback for football and for Arsenal. I personally found it totally refreshing and totally Arsenal that the media were caught on the hop. It harked back to the day Sol Campbell was unveiled. Even after all these years Wenger can still shock everyone. I hope now, despite the years of wanting this to happen, that he can be given a fitting and deserved send-off, particularly at the Burnley game. I'll be there and it will no doubt be emotional for most of us.