I will miss you too, Arsene

I don’t know if I’ve ever said this but I started 7amkickoff in 2008 because I was tired of the constant stream of criticism against Arsene Wenger. I insisted on context: Wenger’s youth plan was audacious – the likes of which you will never see again in a top club – and most importantly he was doing all of it on a budget, so that we could have the new stadium. He was sacrificing himself for the club. Yes, he was well paid to do so, but I doubt you’ll see such loyalty to the club from Pochettino as they move to their new stadium.

That was the Cesc era. And if you look at what the core players went on to become after they left Arsenal – Sagna, Clichy, Toure, van Persie, and Fabregas all won the Premier League at least once – you have to say that Wenger nearly got it right. Nearly.

Over the years, my position on Wenger softened. I could see that there were familiar failings every season. That core above was joined with a midfield of Flamini, Gilberto, Alex Song and Denilson, backed by captain William Gallas, and featured Manuel Almunia in goal. Flamini and Gilberto both left the club, Song became the starter and despite Wenger crafting him into one hell of a throughball passer, Arsene couldn’t quite get the balance correct and it all fell apart: Cesc demanded a trade and Wenger’s Arsenal, a side which once beat Barcelona in the Champions League lost 8-2 to Man U and followed that up with a 4-3 loss to Blackburn. Wenger’s youth team was dead, and he did the one thing he seemed to hate the most, he went into the market to get in seasoned professionals.

That was his worst season at Arsenal – until this one. And that summer, to cap it all off, van Persie wrote his “hey guys” letter.

I know what happened next and it’s kind of harsh on Wenger. I’m going to be as honest as I can and just say that I don’t know what was going on behind the scenes. What it looked like from outside of the club, as a fan, was weird and erratic behavior.

He appointed Vermaelen captain, then dropped him after a high profile mistake against Tottenham. Before he dropped him I called dropping Vermaelen, captain of the club, “the nuclear option” in that it would lay waste to the squad.

After that Wenger dropped his defenders whenever they made mistakes. And they were bound to make mistakes. The system Wenger plays exposes defenders so that there will inevitably be a collapse. It doesn’t happen in every game, Koscielny was the king of last minute tackles and interceptions, but there would inevitably come a game where Arsenal’s defensive scheme, which seemed to rely on individual precision, would be exposed.

That’s why Mourinho had so much joy over Wenger down the years. His system is designed to maximize mistakes in his opponents, it’s more than just parking the bus, it’s a provocative system that looks to exploit mistakes. And soon nearly every team adopted this approach to Arsenal. And statistically Wenger’s side just peaked at 4th-ish place every year.

What I mean by that last sentence is that Wenger’s career is incredible for its lack of variation. It didn’t matter who he brought in or sold, Arsenal played the same kind of football and basically got the same points per game. It wasn’t until this year that Wenger’s approach really started to collapse. Teams at home started playing two up top and started attacking Arsenal in possession (which was unthinkable in the 2006-2010 version of Arsenal, the Barca-lite version).

There were other factors there as well. The money that City have spent is incredible as is the buying power of United. But Chelsea*, Tottenham and Liverpool have challenged for the title without spending, with good coaching and a lot of luck (Tottenham wouldn’t be a top club without Kane, a once-in-a-lifetime gem). I think that’s the future for Arsenal. The league is awash with money and top quality players are being snapped up by clubs that previously couldn’t afford them. Moreover, it’s almost impossible for Arsenal to unearth gems anymore. Both because fans run out of patience and because the football scouting network is so well informed. The days when Wenger could swoop for Vieira or pick Fabregas from Barcelona are long dead. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some to be found, Mavropanos looks a right good buy and obviously someone discovered Kane, Kante, Gueye, and Mahrez. But building a whole team from outstanding transfer business is much more difficult than it was in 1996.

The one thing that most perplexes me about Wenger’s recent teams is that he had a blueprint to win the League in the Invincibles: physically intimidating bastards who could play football. That was every Chelsea team from 2005-2015, every United team that ever played football, that’s what Tottenham do now as well. Maybe we are heading back in that direction. Holding and Mavropanos look like they are bit tough and Kolasinac is certainly a “unit”. Xhaka is also kind of a big guy.

That question, though, lingers: what’s the future of this club now that Wenger is gone? There’s been a lot of talk about the mess that he’s left behind – Per has retired, Koscielny is done, Cech looks done, Monreal is done, and Arsenal only have one left back and one right back. In midfield Cazorla is done, there are questions over Jack Wilshere, Xhaka has some obvious defensive problems that I’m not sure coaching will fix, and Ramsey has a history of not playing many minutes due to injury. The next manager has a lot to sort out.

But Wenger also left the club with some incredibly talented attacking up front. Aubameyang and Lacazette are both 20%+ finishers. Ozil is still the key pass king in Europe and Arsenal have players like Iwobi coming through the ranks. There are problems, but the core of the attack is very solid at Arsenal. And attack is what wins you championships.

What does the future hold for Arsenal? Where we are now is that in the void of being able to criticize Wenger for Arsenal’s failings, I’ve noticed that the bloggers, former players, writers, journos, and fans have all started to attack the players. It’s Ozil’s turn this week because he’s out with a back injury. Someone noticed that he’s missed every away match against Newcastle and that he gets a winter break and now they are saying that he’s out sick every away game, not giving everything for the club, etc. I hope this isn’t going to be the next four years of being an Arsenal supporter because that will absolutely suck. I think winning something will keep this down to a dull roar but it won’t be long before we are calling for some player/manager/owner’s head.

I also wonder about the future for Arsene? He’s said for many years that he doesn’t want a job with a national side because he likes working with youth, developing youth. I could see him instead starting an academy. That’s not a joke. I mean it. He’s said that the only reason why there are no African Formula One drivers is because no one gives them the chance. I could see him starting an academy with branches all over the world, giving disadvantaged youth a chance.

I don’t know if he will get more chances at the club level or if he will want them. He’s such a well-known quantity, his tactics are so predictable now, that I wouldn’t be surprised if he only gets one more job at club level. Which I don’t say out of hatred for the man but rather that football is a cruel sport, it demands only excellence and anything less is punished ruthlessly (unless you’re an old English manager, until this year).

But ultimately, it’s Wenger’s final words to the fans that stick with me. “I will miss you” he said while clearly choking up. There he was once again picking the exact right phrase, the phrase that gives us some insight into life, death, art, and beauty. In the end, everything falls apart. And because we love, because we care about each other, when they are gone, we miss them.

I will miss you too, Arsene.


*Chelsea is weird – they seem to have gone into a financial mode where they are relying on player sales at inflated prices, that seems unsustainable, but they also have the best youth team in England (they won the Youth FA Cup five times in a row now) and literally dozens of top prospects on loan across the globe. I can’t say for sure but it looks like Abramovich isn’t going to pump blood money into them any more.


  1. Abramovich’s investment was always, only about the property development.

  2. Great piece, Tim. Very much appreciate the sentiments and observations.

    He’s a manager from another era, and he will never get a job like he had at Arsenal, where he had so much control for so long. So I wonder, then, whether he’ll ever be as predictable again, by which I mean that I’m not sure I buy into your theory that he’s basically finished as a club manager. I think there’s a good chance that his approach, in a different context, might be more effective than it was at Arsenal — a context in which he would not be running things as an autocrat.

    On the other hand, I have doubts about whether he would want to join the modern managerial system at all, with its particular kind of oversight and merry-go-round. He loves playing the long game, which doesn’t suit the way clubs now operate with their managers.

    I have a funny feeling he’ll take on a role as a Director of Football at a major European club, perhaps this year, perhaps next.

    1. “He’s a manager from another era, and he will never get a job like he had at Arsenal, where he had so much control for so long.”

      I don’t think anyone will ever get a job like he had at any club. Very much the end of an era in that sense.

      I hope he develops a hobby along with whatever gig he lands next. He deserves a respite from his own obsession with the game.

  3. That man really does drip with class. You nailed it on how well he nailed it yet again with just a simple sentence. He really is a special man. Arsenal has been lucky to have him even if it went on too long in the end maybe. I have been lucky to find Arsenal when I did, and to have him as our manager.
    I thought the press conference with their presentation was so classy, and demonstrates what a man he is. Those guys are a pack of dicks half the time but Arsene knows they just have a job to do, so he answers their questions and speaks his mind. I was happy to see some appreciation from them especially when you see how other managers treat them and get a free pass (I’m looking at you – Pep- and I can’t even get started on the Special Cunt).
    I am excited for the future, and scared.
    I will always be proud to be an Arsenal fan but I will say that Wenger was definitely a good part of what made me proud. I have always been proud to have a man of his class at the helm. The club is of course bigger than one man and the values were there before and they will endure into the future. It’s what attracted him and kept him here, I think.
    I can only hope the club heeds his warning to keep those values strong.
    Merci Arsene.
    I will miss you, too.

  4. The final game of the season is on Sunday, will Wenger leave immediately or will he hang around, like a fart in a phone box, until the end of his contract year?

    1. “like a fart in a phone box?”
      Is that just a flat(ulent) joke or is that really how you would think of him?

      1. His job ends on Sunday, what possible reason is there for him to stay any longer?

  5. Great piece btw, really resonated with me. So many entertaining, insightful, brilliant and outright funny quotes through the years but that last one, that wistful, “I will miss you” really does sums up the relationship between The Man and his club, his people (us).

    One of my absolute favorite ones is the summation of the absurdity and complexity of the game when he tells of his dream of ascending to heaven and meeting St. Peter at the gates.
    “What have you done?” (in order to enter the kingdom of heaven)” he asks.
    “I have tried to win football games”, says Wenger.
    “That’s it?”, asks Peter.
    “It’s harder than it sounds”, replies Wenger.

  6. You never miss your water ‘till you well runs dry.

    AW was well paid – but it was acknowledgement that he was doing at least 3 people’s jobs, and the club will see the wage costs rise significantly for non-playing staff following his departure.
    I still believe the purchases of Xhaka and Mustafi were made by Gazidis and the statisticians as neither of these players seem to have the basic skills that AW has typically looked for in his players (vision and ability to retain the ball under pressure) – and that AW only agreed to stay on this season to allow the club to put in place a management structure to take over from him – which they have now done.
    He has repeatedly shielded both players and management against the fans disgruntlement, particularly when the management were giving out exaggerated figures for the amount that was available for transfers, and it will be interesting to see how the club responds to the removal of this ‘shield’.

    1. If that’s true though, and I’m not inclined to believe otherwise, would that absolve him of this “outdated tactics” criticism? I would say he was on track to win 2-3 titles before injuries to a single player (eduardo, rvp, Santi)derailed the course, which goes to show how much success depends on little margins

      1. Also, I very much doubt that he wasn’t aware of “modern tactics”. Players are always moving clubs so nothing is secret, and even that youth team player mentioned how much detailed videos and coaching were available. So I don’t know what the problem was, but I don’t think it was down to ignorant tactics

  7. I think it will be David Wagner of Huddersfield Town to take over from Arsene. The resemblance is uncanny. Herbert Chapman came to Arsenal from there. We are waiting for the season to complete before Wagner can be approached. We will also be playing against HT on the last day of the season and it would not be appropriate to approach them before that.

    1. Please, I hope not. Huddersfield Town is abysmal to watch and a bad team to boot. Don’t bring that to Arsenal.

  8. For me the whole project youth or banter era was where there was a battle for the future of the PL. Wenger had already redefined the league, with the blueprint as you rightly say that Chelsea followed. This also brought the league increased global exposure and interest, and the beginning of the oligarchs, state money through first businessmen, then politicians, and then outright ‘kings’.

    The youth era was moving away from this financial model and away from the style of football that he himself had established. Wenger was trying to redefine the league again. We paid for it with the hostility of the press and the referees, and with actual broken legs.

    I disagree that Arsenal stayed the same. We changed, but the league wasn’t ready for us to. As soon as Arsenal neared the end of the long term deals, we bought guys like Arteta and Per even though they wouldn’t have resale value. And as soon as we signed the new deals, we bought Ozil and Alexis.

    We know the problems, it maybe came a couple of seasons too late. By then ManU had been joined by not just Chelsea but City, and Liverpool and Spurs had many years of getting it wrong before getting it ‘right’, while our injury problems continued. (This will be a major area of study at the club I am sure)

    In the end, I don’t care about any of the arguments against him. Any of the ‘he did great…but’ digs at him. It matters not. He took us from being a club with not even our own training ground to a club among the top 6 in terms of size, brought us 3 league titles with some unbelievably exciting football, and a record 7 FA Cups(13 for the club), made us believe we belonged at the top table of Europe’s elite to the point that we took it for granted, all while delivering us a new stadium in London that we paid for with our own money, and above all, staying true to his and the club’s values. Which in the long term, is really what it is about. Preserving the club’s well being and identity. He came in as an unknown and leaves as the club’s greatest legend. No one is taking that away from him.

    As for what next for him. He says he already has offers and you better believe it. He’s still a good manager, and much as the players could do with a change, maybe a new start with new players would galvanise him too. Plus, any club that signs him is going to get a few tens of millions of extra eyeballs to follow them. I think since he’s emphasised being true to his values, he wouldn’t join PSG even if they wanted him. But maybe Dortmund? A German club would suit him. The German league would suit him. Dortmund have the same values, attacking philosophy, young players. And there again, he would face only one richer league opponent, like he had with ManU when he joined Arsenal. If I were in charge of Dortmund I would certainly be getting in touch.

    1. Zero chance though, they just agreed terms with Lucien Favre and I doubt Wenger was anywhere on their list.

  9. You’re making many good points , especially about millions of eyeballs gained by any club who would take him on, but Dortmund?
    Bundesliga is full of young and astute managers who would take Wenger’s tactics apart.
    The 6:0 trashing Dortmund suffered at the hands of Bayern this season may not be the worst result against them yet were Arsene to become their new coach

    As for belonging to the top table of Europe’s elite, my overwhelming feeling that ruins this notion is the image of Bayern players having a chuckle upon finding out they drew Arsenal in the last 16.

  10. Why not just say you disagree completely rather than start with ‘you’re making many good points’ only to then say Arsene sucks and the only reason to hire him would be extra viewership.

    Like I said, I don’t care about any of these arguments anymore. Feel free to keep at it.

  11. Baybe you can just write my posts for me the way you like them from now on .

    You mentioned a slew of topics and I only disagree with two.
    We’ve been a failure in Europe( competitively speaking) and Bundesliga is probably the last place he should go.

  12. The upside is that wherever Wenger goes, I’ll have a second team to follow.

    I’ll be genuinely fascinated to see what he can do from scratch with another team – and I think once he reconnects with himself, he will be too. Dortmund was my first thought as well, although for Wenger I think he’ll looking for a very personal challenge, like he did with Grampus 8. So it might be a pretty idiosyncratic choice. Maybe he’ll go home, I wonder if Strasbourg are looking for a manager?

  13. There’s no way that Wenger will take on a new “project”, at sixty-eight he doesn’t have the time to rebuild a team from scratch.

    His most likely new post will be at PSG as General Manager. They have already leaked their interest in him to the French press.

    All I can say is good luck to him wherever he goes, and good luck to the club that takes him on.

    1. Tuchel will not last at PSG. That’s Neymar’s team to the point where it’s rumored the owner plans to vet all transfer activity with Neymar and his father. I give Tuchel a season and then Wenger might take over. But he’ll regret it – that job is a poison chalice if ever there was one. I pray that PSG never win Champions League in my lifetime… they’re #1 on my most-hated team list.

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