JB’s Snapshot: Goodbye Stranger

By Jonathan Blaustein Chief Goodbye Letter Writer 

Dear Arsene Wenger,

Before I say anything else, anything at all, I must first say thank you.

Thank you for ensnaring me in your web of Arsenalness. Thank you for the innumerable hours you put into this team, the city of London, the global fanbase.

Thank you for all of it.

The trophies.

The drama.

The failures. (Your speciality, according to a troll up in Manchester.)

Seriously, though, thank you. If I hadn’t read your Wikipedia page back in the Fall of 2011, I might never have gotten addicted to English Football, and to Arsenal. (What else might I have done with those 5000 hours?)

Arsenal’s stylish passing and cool haircuts got my attention, back when I didn’t know one team from another. (Robin Van Persie was in fine form.) But I was watching all the games, those first few weeks, so it could have been any team, really.

I kept hearing the announcers talks about this guy, AHR-sen VEN-gah, and it was different than how they talked about everyone else. He sounded debonair. Intellectual.

So I read up on him, and how could this not be for me? All the American hipsters were for Arsenal, supposedly, because they were the creative, global team. Arsene was basically some Hollywood hack’s version of a French philosophy professor come to life.

I accepted my fate as a Gooner by week 3, and haven’t looked back since. Had I chosen Chelsea, I’d have seen a Champions League title, (that year,) the Europa League trophy, and 2 EPL titles. (Including this year, presumably.)

Manchester United have one one title so far, and an FA Cup. City have 2 titles, and I couldn’t be bothered to check how many little trophies they’ve won.

Even fucking Leicester City have won the league since I started watching.

But not Arsenal.

The two FA Cup victories were really sweet, and thanks for that too. I felt rewarded, like it made it all worthwhile, and it was great to hear the “no trophies since” people shut up. But then they just switched to “no titles since” the next day, because life isn’t fair.

Arsene, thank you for enticing me to support your football club. Because you really do seem to be a decent guy. So smart. Loyal. You’re a genuine Renaissance man, as you helped design and then fill a new stadium. You did all sorts of good things before I even knew you existed. (The Invincibles?)

Honestly, you’re probably way smarter than I am, and, like, I’m pretty smart. You’ve had an amazing career, and can go on to coach elsewhere, once you leave Arsenal. (Which you suggested just this morning.) It has to happen eventually, the leaving, but given that you were an FA Cup loss away from quitting once before, the writing is on the wall this time.

Chances are, you’ll walk away.

We both know it.

Either way, I wanted you to know I’m glad I ended up an Arsenal fan. The life-long Londoners might find the idea of choosing a club from scratch to be ridiculous, but there it is.

I guess I could have thrown darts, or played pin the tail on the donkey to decide. Instead, it was Arsene’s charm. Remember that grin he had, when he knew he’d just bought Ozil? That was awesome, Arsene.

Awesome.

I was so optimistic then. I believed you’d have a final act. Which you kind of did, with the back-to-back FA Cups. Do you think you have it in you to win it one more time? Because that would be brilliant, if you could conjure that out of what appears to be a genuinely broken season.

But speaking of the end, Arsene, there is a comparable story from over here in America that I think you’ll find interesting.

I’ve rooted for the New York Giants since I first watched American football on TV as a kid with my Dad. We lived in New Jersey, where the Giants play, so they were our local team.

My Dad’s team.

My team.

I’ve seen the Giants win 4 Superbowls in my life, and it’s been amazing each time. Only one team wins the Superbowl each year, and everyone else are losers. There are no cup competitions.

4 Superbowl victories, and I even got to see Superbowl XXI in person, as Phil Simms eviscerated the Denver Broncos back in ’87. But Arsene, the relevant bit is that the Giants had a coach, Tom Coughlin, who won 2 of those 4 Superbowls. And he coached the only 2 teams to beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the big game.

Tom Coughlin is a Giants legend. But he had 3 losing seasons in a row, and his last year, (2015–16) his team lost the lead in the last 2 minutes of game 6 times. He had a 12 year run, which is insanely rare in today’s NFL, but because his late-era teams lacked mental strength, and were no longer capable of handling pressure, his reign came to an end before he was ready to leave.

The Giants shoved off Tom Coughlin, invested anew in their roster, hired a young coach, went 11–5 this year, and made the playoffs for the first time in 4 years. The new guy, Ben McAdoo, had been Coughlin’s offensive coordinator.

His protégée, for two years.

The usurper improved the team almost immediately. It’s a sports story as much as a Shakespearean tragedy, Arsene, but maybe you should call Tom Coughlin and chat him up. He’ll likely have some thoughts about your situation.

Because Ivan Gazidis said, a while back, that the fans decide if you stay or go. And I’m pretty sure you know what they want, Arsene. It was written on your face the other day after the Bayern catastrophe.

But we’re getting off topic, Arsene.

Let’s focus on the positive here.

You did it! You transformed the team into a global mega-brand famed for style and panache. But as we’ve seen with the rapid rise of Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG, winning builds brands.

It’s winning that brings in the mad cash.

So let someone else worry about that for once, Arsene.

Now, it’s time to retire, or at least to set yourself a new challenge.

Why not play beach football in Nice when the weather is nice? Maybe hit the Mayan Riviera in Winter, rather than Stoke City?

Write a novel.

Take up painting. (Like George W. Bush.)

Become a pundit.

Start a blog.

Go coach Barcelona, for all I care, but please try to make this last phase as graceful as possible.

If you need to announce now that you’ll sign a one year contract, and have a good-bye tour, sure, I can live with that. But I don’t think you’ve got another year in you.

Not like this.

How about you tell everyone it’s your last go around, and get the boys to go all in for the FA Cup? Tell people you’re taking a seat on the board, or becoming Director of Football Operations, or any official role that lets you work when you want. (After that fat vacation.)

Or just step away.

Whatever.

But since the knives are coming out, and the fans are likely to turn on you until May, I wanted to go the opposite way.

I wanted to say thanks, Arsene Wenger.

For everything.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @jblauphoto

17 Comments on JB’s Snapshot: Goodbye Stranger

  1. If he retires, he should write a book about his years at Arsenal. Who wouldn’t want to read that? I think many non-Arsenal fans would read that as well.

    I don’t think he will retire though. Despite his body language in the post-match interview, I think he wants to continue here. All he needs is some sort of indication that he can fix the mid field – because if he can, that will solve 70% of our problems and he will feel that he can improve the team. If he can’t and he does leave Arsenal, I think he will be snapped up by PSG or Barca. I hope that’s what ends up happening because I don’t want him to retire without achieving something big and I think a rich club would give him the platform to do what he does best.

    • PSG or Barca?
      I’m afraid that ship has sailed long ago but I’m sure there would be planty of second tier clubs in France, Spain or Germany to salivate at the prospect of Wenger in charge.

      • I don’t see Wenger leaving Arsenal for a 2nd tier club. If he has unfulfilled goals like winning the CL, he wont realize them at a 2nd tier club.

  2. This appears to be from the heart…of a lot of Arsenal fans this week. JB your journey began at an interesting time. I became a fan in 1992 when the premier league was formed and PL games were televised in other countries via satellite. Arsene Wenger elevated our club when he arrived. It was not just a little high, it was an extended euphoria with the ultimate climax of the Invincibles season. We will never get that high back I’m afraid. But the love for what Arsene Wenger achieved will still be there. It is time for a change and a new face, indeed a new direction for the Arsenal.

  3. There are a handful of games remaining that will determine Arsenal and Wenger’s faith the rest of the season. Bayern at home and Liverpool away in quick succession are probably the most important ones .

    If Arsenal can beat Bayern and save face while still going out of Europe, and then get a result at Anfield most Arsenal and Wenger supporters will still be on board for another season or two of the same.

    Ultimately thought, top four becomes a priority for Wenger even more than ever before.
    If he fails to achieve that, a huge argument for staying on will be lost to him and most of his biggest backers.

  4. I just did the stadium tour at the Emirates. Once you see the scope of that accomplishment, there is literally no way that they push him out. With all respect to Herb Chapman and George Graham, he built this club into the global powerhouse that it is today. A lesser manager or more likely a parade of lesser managers would have left us a faded team like Leeds, or a public assistance leech like West Ham, or, shudder, the worst of both like ‘that mob up the road’ as Charlie George so aptly put it.

    I’m not opposed to a new manager, but tossing Wenger out with the trash is not the Arsenal way.

    • When I moved to the UK at about 10 years old in 1987 we lived in an apartment next to Fulham Football Club. They were in Division 2 at the time and sometimes they’d open up the turnstiles at half-time and you could stroll in and watch the 2nd half without even paying. The closest top division club was Chelsea but I’d seen their fans in the streets on match-days and they didn’t seem like my kind of people.

      I started supporting Arsenal around the time Ian Wright joined a side that already had legendary keeper David Seaman and Tony “Mr. Arsenal” Adams. We were frequently terrible and often boring but our kits were always special, the history of the club was fascinating and Highbury was just an incredible stadium. Walking around the area on matchdays and finding a local bar to drink and hang (always been tough to get tickets even before the Emirates) with other Gooners was unforgettable.

      We were a pretty humble club, even after the titles in ’89 and ’91. What Wenger did in his early period was magical because it was so unexpected. Part of the fanbase has always kept that sense of class and humility and it’s partly why he will have die-hard supporters no matter how bad it gets. The choice to leave Highbury wasn’t universally popular at the time. But Wenger and the club convinced us we needed to take a big step forward if wanted to keep competing at the top level of European football. The terror of losing our home turf was emphasised when we played Champions League games at Wembley. We got battered by the likes of Barcelona and Fiorentina, they didn’t feel like home games, and some of us worried that it might be like that in the new stadium. But it was about growing, and preparing the club for success and we accepted the gamble.

      I think if you told Wenger when the Emirates first opened in 2006 that we’d go a decade without a title he’d have said “no chance”. His legacy is untouchable but in as much as he built the recent Arsenal, the club also built him. Leaving Highbury was a huge gamble and the club needs to take another one now and give a new man the tools he needs to take us to the next level. We can have a very bright future, but we need to be bold and stop putting off the inevitable.

      • Thanks for sharing that perspective of shifting expectations. Most folks who come here, including myself, are hardly regulars at the grounds now let alone before Wenger came along.

    • Very good point. Chamakh was on that team, as was Gervinho. Guess Alec Song’s two-hued mohawk really made an impression on me.

  5. Poor Tom Coughlin. How must it feel to be sacked and then watch your team invest over 100 million in the free agent market and land a high first round pick? I don’t follow the Giants, I’m a Patriots fan (yeah, yeah boo hiss, I know) so you’re much better placed to say if he was really “the problem” but we’ll never know if the Giants would’ve gone 11-5 with him at the helm instead of MacAdoo after all that investment. The proof in the pudding though is that he didn’t go back to coaching. Maybe it’s just age. Like Wenger, he’s in his late 60’s and perhaps as willing as the mind and the body are, things just don’t work like they used to do. I often wonder how long Bill can keep doing it at this level. It seems superhuman. But, I suppose that’s why he’s a sith lord.

    This was a beautiful letter by the way, very enjoyable read.

    • Thanks for the compliments. You’re right, of course, that the massive investment in the team was a huge driver of the Giants’ improvement.
      But fans, management, and probably the players came to believe Coughlin could no longer get them over the hump. Which is exactly where I think we are with Arsene.

  6. “Now when all this steel and these stories, they drift away to rust
    And all our youth and beauty, it’s been given to the dust
    When the game has been decided and we’re burning down the clock
    And all our little victories and glories have turned into parking lots
    When your best hopes and desires are scattered through the wind
    And hard times come, and hard times go
    Yeah just
    to come again
    Bring on your wrecking ball
    Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you got
    Bring on your wrecking ball”

    From “Wrecking Ball”, Bruce Springsteen’s elegy to the old Meadowlands where he and the band would make their final home stand after a long world tour.

  7. Compare and contrast

    Spurs lose two games in a week to Liverpool in the EPL and to KAA Gent (8th in the Belgian First Division) in the Europa League. Barely a murmur in the media and a former manager writes a story on the BBC that they’ll win the title within 4 years http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/39009491. Triples all round.

    Arsenal beat Hull in the EPL and lose badly to one of the best teams in the world in the Champions League last-16 which Spurs failed to qualify for. Twittersphere ablaze, WengerOut trending exponentially.

    Arsenal and Spurs have exactly the same points in the EPL but one young manager who has not won anything is hailed as a genius and the second best manager in EPL history is treated like dirt by his own team’s fans. The manager who has never finished below Spurs in the EPL and has qualified for the Champions League 20 years in a row.

    What an ungrateful self-entitled bunch we Arsenal fans are. Wenger is entitled to our respect and to choose when he retires without being hounded out.

    Get some perspective, get your red and white scarf on and get behind the team.

    • Perspective is a great thing indeed.
      Arsenal wage bill – £190m or thereabouts
      Tottenham ‘s – £120m

      Arsenal have been humiliated by Bayern and for all intents and purposes are out of the CL , the competition Wenger dreams of winning.
      Tottenham lost 1:0 away and are still favorites to progress in a competition no one really cares about.

      Arsenal beat a relegation bound Hull City at home while looking shaky at best, while Tottenham lost 2:0 to a rampant Liverpool away.

      But you are right about the 20 years of uninterrupted CL qualification and the dominance over Tottenham in the league standings, and if that’s your only goal for this Arsenal club , then you are probably correct, Wenger should be allowed to stay as long as he wants to.

      Here’s a question though: if he fails to qualify for CL next season and finishes below the Spurs in the league, will you ask for his resignation or call it just a one of?

    • Apples and oranges. In the latest Deloitte money league, Arsenal are 7th in terms of total revenue at €468.5M while Tottenham are 12th at €297.7M. To put that into further perspective, Bayern are 4th at €592M, €123.5M more than us. We’re €170.8M up on Tottenham. Are we 4-nil better than Tottenham? And we’re behind them in the league. Any way you slice it, Poch has Tottenham over performing relative the to the money at his disposal.

  8. spuds ain’t performing $h*te!
    They have not won a DAMN thing.
    manure are on coach #? and are not even in cl either.
    $h*tty just lost their spark to a season long foot injury and we shall see if they limp to the finish line.
    chavs might very well win the league this year but they are not even in cl.
    yes, am pissed about losing, but Arsene is very level headed and knows a loss is just that.
    Lets finish the year above all the rest of the scrum, win the FA and be stoked to support a great team!
    Laughing really, that the media have basically manufactured all this hype, and Arsenal are still a great club no matter how much fake news is out there.
    May the Arsenal blast Sutton and allow Arsene to get back on track.
    He is one of the greatest managers ever in the EPL and hope he goes out on his own terms with his dignity intact.

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