The subject of Arsène Wenger’s likely legacy has been on my mind recently.
Of course, what legacy he is likely to leave will only come into focus on the desperately sad day when he walks away from Arsenal.
Whatever you think of Arsène, he is so inextricably linked to our football club now, it will be like losing a family member. Some, perhaps the younger Arsenal fans who have known only him, may see Arsène akin to a grandfather. Once feared and respected; but now, possibly, slipping away into madness.
For older Arsenal fans, guys and gals in their late 30’s say, might see Arsène a bit like their own fathers. For me, he is certainly of that age. The tall, slim Frenchman with a prominent nose also bears a passing resemblance to my own father. Or he would, were my father not utterly consumed by his alcoholism and so a stooped shadow of his former self. I suppose they also share an obsessive nature; it’s just that my father has been destroyed by his.
My point being that even those who think a change is long past overdue at Arsenal, will feel a strange sort of bereavement when Arsène does go. Yes, they might feel an initial ‘ding dong the witch is dead!’ euphoria. But then reality will surely dawn. Yes, even for DT and co. Apart from the fact that the object of their ire will have gone, he is no witch. He is a man who gave Arsenal fans (some of) the best memories of their lifetime. This was a man who won the Premier League unbeaten, a double double. More FA Cups than any other manager in the history of the game.
Whatever the merits of the man who eventually replaces Arsène, it’s tough to imagine he’d ever be able to repeat these feats.
In the here and now, it’s also tough to imagine when that eventuality might come. Especially when the talk around the campfire is that Arsène is engaged in discussions over a new rolling, one year deal. So, as Helen pointed out to me when discussing this topic in the Daily Cannon writers’ room, it’s tricky to assess a likely legacy.
For example, I remember talking to my uncle Stephen – a fierce Wenger critic but also one of his strongest advocates (yes, I know, it makes talking to him tricky) years ago. I think Arsenal were struggling at the time. Anyway, he said to me that he felt Arsène’s biggest legacy would be the sheer volume of highly skilled young Englishmen available to the national team.
And that was well before the “audacious stunt” which announced the signing of the so called “British core”
As we all know, two, three years later, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
Jenko and Gibbs seem to be very much bit part players now, though it also feels like Kieran Gibbs is now getting more game time than he once was. Obviously, Jack Wilshere is on loan at Bournemouth and has given a couple of interviews suggesting he feels it might be time to leave Arsenal. Theo has had enough of pretending to be a striker and, despite his obvious talent, the Ox has still to nail down the starting spot I feel should be his.
It’s not all cut and dried though.
Santi Cazorla is still waiting for a new contract offer. This despite his importance to the team repeatedly being talked up by Arsène. Perhaps a combination of his dodgy Achilles tendon and Jack Wilshere’s interview technique is at the root of this impasse. On the wings, both the Ox and Theo – to varying degrees – seem to have taken steps forward this season.
So, perhaps there is hope for the British core yet. Particularly when you factor in the lengths to which Arsène will go to shoehorn Aaron Ramsey into his teams.
I actually think the struggles of these boys to impose themselves on the first team is a result of Arsène’s real legacy.
- The vision to take a transfer fee from Real Madrid and spend half of it on a world class training facility.
- The vision to pack a team with world class performers, building expectation to, ahem, fever pitch.
- The vision to capitalise on that expectation and get a new stadium built.
- The vision to pay for that stadium, having to make a £25m profit on transfers – whilst keeping the club in the top 4.
Not just once, not just twice, but year after year. Until we could indeed “spend some f___ing money!” on proper players. Not Gervinho.
It sounds easy when you say it like that, doesn’t it? Well, actually, I’m not sure it does.
Where we are now is Wenger’s legacy in action.
We wouldn’t be able to sign the likes of Alexis and Özil now without Arsène keeping us in the Champions League year after year. We may not yet be quite where we want to be. However, compared to the Denilson years, I think you’d all agree we’re in a much better place.
Compared to where Arsène discovered us; a club with an ageing, boozehound defence but without our own training ground, we’re on another planet.
The most obvious representation of that fact, I guess is the stadium now ten years old. But it is also the fact that every week, you get to watch these guys.
Frankly, my biggest worry going forward is a board who seem ultra conservative and ever so slightly risk averse. Whatever you do think of the man from Alsace, everything he does is done with one eye on safeguarding Arsenal’s future at the top table.
That, my friends (and Jose Mourinho), is what you call a real legacy.
That’s why he deserves all the respect he gets.