Today marks Arsène Wenger’s 13th year at Arsenal, making him the longest serving manager the club has ever had and also the only Arsenal manager that I have ever known. To some folks this last fact is a criticism but I don’t see it that way: when you start following a club, you have to start with some manager and who better to get my addiction off to a really good start than the man whose name is synonymous with the club?
Wenger’s most obvious successes have been well documented: articles about the two doubles, the invincibles season, and the huge sums of money he’s generated in player sales dominate this morning’s journalistic landscape and obviously he deserves all that praise, those are his achievements. In fact, as I like to point out, Arsene Wenger’s record is so impressive that under his stewardship he has won the same number of league titles as Chelsea has in their entire 104 year history.
But those are the easy stories to write about. What’s often left uncovered is how profoundly Arsène Wenger has changed Arsenal football club, English football, and perhaps even world football in general.
At the club, the change has been dramatic. Arsenal have been transformed from “boring boring Arsenal” who played a defensive brand of football in a 30,000 seat arena (magnificent as it was) to a fluid, attacking, “total” football team which entertains 60,000 people in person and thrills millions worldwide. Moreover, Wenger’s attention to detail and tireless work ethic created a world class youth academy that has produced countless footballing professionals. And those same personal qualities created the London Colney training ground, the envy of every club in the world and the basis from which springs our beautiful football. He even had input on the design of the Emirates Stadium. As Ken Friar points out in his interview on the dot com, Wenger’s fingerprints are all over the permanent parts of this club.
Across the EPL, his training and dietary regimens, scouting and youth academy, and brand of attacking football has inspired changes in the way the game is played, coached, and even the types of players that teams buy. If you want to be in the top four of the English Premier League then you need to have a top class training regimen, you need to have a world-wide scouting troupe, and you need to play (at least somewhat) an attacking brand of football. That’s down, in large part to teams looking at what Wenger is doing and wanting to imitate. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read a story about a club like Tottenham where a new manager comes in and comments on the lazy training, or where a team is lauded for playing “Arsenal-like.” Chelsea’s owner’s wet dream is that his club would be as big as Arsenal, would play the attacking style of football that Arsenal plays, and that the club would be as successful as just one man has been. That, for me, is one of the biggest compliments that Wenger could receive.
And now here he is pushing the boundaries of the whole league’s reserves system and has changed the League Cup from a burdensome tournament to a sparkling showcase for England’s finest youth prospects. I could go on and on about the ways that he’s changed English football but it’s his world-wide impact that is probably most remarkable. In Scotland, you have Tony Mowbray trying to play like Arsenal, in America Sigi Schmid is saying that they want to play open, attacking football and that’s just two off the top of my head. It seems like every time I turn around I hear a pundit saying that such and such team plays “Arsenal like.”
The thing is, teams aren’t really playing Arsenal-like, Arsenal-like has been dozens of different things since 1886. No, across the globe, teams are playing Arsène-like. It’s just that in 13 years Arsène and Arsenal have become so synonymous that people can’t tell them apart.
So, the club might as well go ahead and add the grave accent over the “e” in Arsenal, because for a long time to come this team and Arsène Wenger will be synonymous.
For a long time to come we will be Arsènal, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.