Today marks the day that Arsene Wenger becomes the longest serving manager in Arsenal history. To put into words the impact he has had on the club in a little over thirteen years is almost a futile exercise – despite such a rich history, Arsenal are now different in almost every way from the day he arrived.
The football we play has changed beyond recognition, the attitude to training and culture at the club has changed. We are in a brand new stadium with facilities tailored to modern ways of thinking. Aspects of the ground were even designed by the man.
We see some of the brightest young talent in world football wanting to join our club, to play for Wenger, to fit in with the style of football he has brought to the Premiership. Moreover, he paved the way for foreign managers to coach the big clubs – remember how few there were when he arrived.
And then of course there are the trophies. Three Premiership titles, four FA Cup triumphs, and the unprecedented Invincibles season, the likes of which may never be seen again. Already everyone in this season’s top flight has lost at least once, hinting at the remarkable nature of the feat. That team was incredible – Henry, Pires, Vieira, Ljungberg, Bergkamp – stellar names that in today’s world would be worth well in excess of £100m between them, at their peak as they were at the time. Their combined cost to Arsenal? Around £30m.
He has given us thrilling European runs, brought us within fifteen minutes of Champions League glory, but most of all, he has put the club first in everything he has done. He wants to leave us in a strong position, the youth academy delivering, the financial position self-sufficient and flourishing, and the squad powerful. Some managers spend every penny they have and ruin a club’s future for the present, Wenger has always had a long term vision.
Following Wenger will be an impossible task, but he is striving to make it easier by putting in every foundation a club could ever need. The next manager will have the perfect infrastructure in which to work.
How many more years he will continue is the ultimate question. Part of me suspects that if the team he is moulding grows up together and returns to Premiership or (dare I say it) Champions League glory, he will go out at the top, having proved all the doubters wrong. When that day comes, we may finally realise how unique this period in our club’s history is.
Wenger wanted to create a legacy. Whatever follows from here, he has succeeded. Thanks Arsene, and here’s to more success.