As with all great romances, the start of this special relationship was very sotto voce with an understated question ‘Arsene Who?’ which swiftly developed into the realisation that we were on the verge of a ‘new deal’ era managed by a footballing mastermind, and which was quickly symbolised by the long distance purchase of a footballing great, Patrick Vieira, before ever we had seen ‘The Professor’ in person.
A wonderful first seven years, or so, flew by, with Doubles, League titles and FA Cups. And then came the seemingly endless building of the Emirates, and with it the crunch of creative management cogs screeching to a juddering halt, and suddenly the trophies dried up!
That was then. Now, nearly 20 years on from the start of the Wenger dynasty, there is the most vitriolic, angry and abusive outpouring of hate filled demands for him to go, from some fans who should know better – with little thought for the joy and pride Arsene Wenger, one of the best ever managers in the history of Arsenal and indeed English football had given to us all.
So, what has gone wrong?
What is indisputable is that there has been a perceived 12 year period of gradual decline from the effortless winning of titles and the creation of the Invincibles team, caused, some will claim, by the sucking away from the football team of any available funds needed for the building of the new stadium, and the impact it had on the recruitment of quality players and the constant selling of the best Arsenal players, season after season, at a time when the oligarchs first showed their snotty noses and bags full of dollar notes to buy all the available talent in every transfer window.
But let’s stop for a moment and try to be objective about what football support is really all about, and how it can lend itself to the unpleasantness many of us will have witnessed.
Most will agree that the excitement, the energy and the anticipation of going to a football match, is hardly the same as that one would expect if going to sit discreetly watching tennis at ‘refined’ strawberry and champagne quaffing Wimbledon. [Just ask Ant and Duck who entertain us all so royally on the Vines’ magic match days!!]
We have all been to games, and have seen for ourselves fans, of both teams, raging at the ‘ridiculous’ decisions of the match officials, with gurning, puce faces screaming at the perceived ‘unfairness’ or ‘ridiculous’ fouls being called against their own team or demanding ‘red card’ dismissals for minor offences committed by the opposition. Much of this anger is engendered by a rank lack of knowledge of the laws of the game, it must be said. And, maybe, some of us (All?) may have even been personally involved in what is a decidedly de rigueur show of comradely brotherhood.
So, there we have it, the atmosphere at a football stadium can be tempestuous and lively, or downright villainous depending on your view of such matters. And that is the one-eyed, bias confirmation ethos under which all football managers work in public, including our own Arsene Wenger.
It is surely true, that many fans base their contentment, or otherwise, on winning games, no matter the manner by which it has been obtained, or the standard of the football on display, whereas others, perhaps more esoterically discerning, place much more store in the entertainment aspect of the games, while not eschewing a plumptious win.
In other words it would appeal more to this latter group, to draw a pulsating, entertaining and dramatic match, than to watch a dreadful, boring but victorious One-Nil to the Arsenal type of game.
So there it is! That is the core of the angry ‘for AW’ or ‘anti-AW’ split: because to some fans, football is enjoying an entertainment based on ‘let’s have a good day out, and cheer the boys on, come what may’ – while for others, they care only for the win, and to hell with how dull the game was.
Before having a look at how this affects the current situation of fans falling out over Wenger, it might help to recall that he is not the only manager who has fallen foul of some of his own club’s fans.
For example, it is often forgotten that old ‘Red Nose’ Ferguson, the longest serving manager in Premiership history, had a very similar experience to that now affecting Arsene.
When Manure lost their crown, and fell from the peak of their prowess by losing the Premiership to the Chavs in 2004/5, th bile of the Manure fans showed its ugly head the next season when they started to give him serious grief by claiming he was ‘deluded’, ‘past his sell by date’ etc, – and where else have we heard those words – he wrote, in his biography, that he was horrified by the anger and outright hostility that was directed at him, with snarling faces and obscene gestures evident in all parts of old Toilet, accompanied with yells of ‘Ferguson Out’.
So Arsene is not alone in having the fans, some of them at least, turning on him, no matter how successful he had previously been.
The last time I went to a game, courtesy of a spare ticket from a friend, we were seated not far from the dugout, and I was secretly delighted, not that I said so, as I had never been in that part of the ground before, or since.
The truth is that it is easier to see the manager and his reactions on TV rather than from where we were seated, but I was sickened and angered by the vile comments hurled at him, no matter that they were in the presence of women and children by supposedly rational adults, and it still sticks with me months later.
Ferguson being jeered by the Manure ‘faithful’ with his stunning record, is no different than AW with his own wonderful managerial record of Doubles, FA Cups and League titles, and he too has been subjected to a terrible and vicious campaign to oust him.
Yes, there have been other managers also subjected to their fans wrath, like the Wally with the Brolly, at Newcastle, and Fat Sam at West Ham both of whom have been subjected to the same vitriolic anger, but frankly, it goes without saying, that they have never been of the same managerial quality as Wenger, or had his quality of trophy achievements. Not that that excuses such personal diatribes – aimed at them, and others of that ilk.
The main charge against AW is that this was THE season when we would win the Premier League, especially with the Chavs sacking Moanhio, Van Gaal losing the plot at Manure, Liverpool switching managers, and Citeh — well …. Citeh were just being Citeh.
And then, damn it, at the turn of the year we were comfortably placed at, or near, the top of the table when suddenly Arsenal started slip-sliding away, while at the same time, little old, unfancied Leicester started a great run, which ultimately won them the Title.
It was a confluence of events that sealed the “Wenger Out’ tirade from those waiting for such an opportunity.
I am on record as saying that I felt Arsene should have retired 2 or 3 years ago, not from any acrimony on my part, but out of concern for his legacy and for him as a decent person, and an amazingly successful manager, as I feared what would happen once those bad boys started to motor, as even then the smouldering temper of the mob was sparking to life.
I wish he had gone then – head held high, and everyone lauding him and his achievements, and if he quietly raised his middle digit in salute who could blame him.
Sadly, although I wish it was otherwise, I think with the managerial changes at many other top clubs, and the promise of the oligarchs to spend big to recover from their much worse seasons than Arsenal have had, that things may well get worse for us next year, and therefore Arsene, too.
With the new wave of upmarket managers coming to the premiership next season, such as Guardiola, Klopp, Conte, and probably Moanhio to freshen up their new clubs, and the managerial progression of Pocket Ino at the Spuds, and bearing in mind only one of them can win the Premier league, it is likely that Arsenal and Arsene will be under even more pressure from the fans — and the portents for the next season are not good.
Is the disgruntled reaction of the Gooner fans the fault of AW, at least in part?
Well the answer to that has to be yes.
To be objective, and certainly not condoning the behaviour of some fans, they do have a point, in that squad recruitment over a period of time has not been of the best quality, with one or two exceptions, and the ridiculous lack of outfield recruitment last summer did not convince anyone we could not improve or refresh the squad, and from the fans’ viewpoint, the medical treatment available for injured players has been unexpectedly poor, and all this has built up, and led to a general frustration and anger, especially as the lack of available players coming through the youth system has not given a safety valve, which although now apparently being addressed, seems to be a case of too little too late.
My feeling is that whatever success we manage to have during season 2016/17, the mob will be just waiting to pounce the minute that the results start to go against us, as inevitably they will, from time to time.
This is a no-win situation for Arsene, and I am quietly hoping, out of consideration for him, that he saves himself, and all the rest of us who admire and respect him as a brilliant manager, by biting the bullet and standing down this summer, so he does not have to suffer from the predictable and continuing trauma of being unfairly abused by irate and undeserving fans next season.
Written by RA