Merci Arsene Wenger: Once a proud conquerer bids Arsenal adieu imperfectly

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New Delhi | Updated: May 10, 2018 4:29:54 PM

Arsene Wenger arrived in Britain in 1996 to take on the responsibility as Arsenal's new manager. His arrival at the scene back then was nothing less than alien-like.

Arsene Wenger steps down as Arsenal manager. (Twitter/Arsenal FC)

“I’m a French. I have not become an Englishman. I have the impression of living on an island called Arsenal. If you fancy a sightseeing tour of London, don’t ask me. You would get lost.”

Arsene Wenger arrived in Britain in 1996 to take on the responsibility as Arsenal’s new manager. His arrival at the scene back then was nothing less than alien-like. Everyone thought how an outsider would fit with the likes of Harry Redknapp, Joe Kinnear, Gerry Francis and Sir Alex Ferguson in what is probably the world’s most competitive football league. The Frenchman wore glasses, had the looks of a literature lecturer about to illuminate the world of Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida to England. No wonder the tabloids had headlines that read: ‘Arsene Who?’

But, little did anyone ever think that he would be the first to challenge Manchester United’s dominance in the Premier League so much so that their rivalry would be the centre of many folktales thereafter. Wenger’s biggest achievement in his 22-year career would be leading the Gunners to an unbeaten Premier League title in 2003-04. Arsenal’s 49-games unbeaten streak earned them the name ‘The Invincibles’. But the conquerer was getting old and with it getting remote were his tactics.

His idea of perfection was noticeably different from the pragmatic approach of his rivals, though he has built teams to produce disciplined performances- most memorable being the 2005 FA Cup Final against Manchester United.

A big supporter of ‘Total Football’, Wenger during the major part of his managerial career advocated the 4-4-2 formation but had to switch to 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 in the later part of his tenure. He has often been criticised for his inefficiency and a lack of variation to go with technique, which has often cost him crucial matches against more flexible sides like Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
Wenger is the last of the all-powerful managers. The era that he represented is the part of the past. That, in part, is why he has been overtaken by the new and young coaches, and why he lost his way.

His lack of winning big tournament often led fans to chant ‘Wenger out’ but no one thought that the 2017-18 season would be his last as the Arsenal manager. Amid all these chants, the gaffer remained firm on his ground only to win the Gunners their seventh FA Cup title in 2016-17, followed by Community Shield in 2017.

Now, it is time to make amends and to call all the mutineers to lay down their swords. It is time for the fans to fill the empty seats of Emirates once again. To bid their old warhorse adieu once and for all. It is probably too late to unveil a statue but not for one to be commissioned for the great one.

The 68-year-old Frenchman was an embodiment of all the vulnerability we stealthily empathise with and even admire; stubbornness, refusal, petulance to accept to infractions that have happened in plain sight. No one can change the fact that he was imperfect, and that he stayed too long for his departure to be full of regrets rather than garlands.

In the ancient time, even monuments of gods were imperfect which is a simple metaphor to describe Wenger’s imperfection. They are great and deserve to be remembered for their flaws.

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