Arsene Wenger is a man who divides opinion nowadays, and it’s not hard to understand why, but I for one will be sad to see him finally go.
As it stands, Arsenal are heading for their 14th season without a Premier League title. Even finishing in the top four is starting to look a tough ask, and there won’t be a fourth FA Cup win in five seasons to help cover that up. This weekend might still bring a League Cup trophy, if we’re lucky, but generally things don’t look good.
It’s not as if Arsenal have had particularly bad fortune this season either.
Maybe you could point to Aaron Ramsey and Shkodran Mustafi’s injuries, or Mesut Özil’s illnesses. Perhaps also to Mike Dean’s penalty decision at West Brom, the assistant’s lack of decision at the Etihad, or the official who somehow called Alexandre Lacazette offside against Stoke.
Still, these are the sort of things every team experiences at some point during a campaign.
The fact is Arsenal haven’t been good enough in the league, from start to finish. Nothing has changed since August, when the club were lucky to end the month with one win.
It’s fair to say I can see why so many people want to see Wenger gone.
I’m not saying this season has filled me with joy either, and maybe a change at the top really would be the best way to put the club back on track.
You just won’t find me celebrating if and when it happens.
As bizarre as it may sound to some people, for me a club is about more than just results on the pitch and a trophy cabinet filled with silverware.
I want Arsenal to be successful every time they step onto the pitch, but that’s not the only way they make me happy.
When Wenger spoke at the Annual General Meeting this year, he talked about giving young players opportunities. He talked about winning in the right way, and keeping the traditions of the club intact.
Ideally, I want a club and a manager where all of those things are considered just as important as winning matches or trophies. Listening to the 68-year-old talk about his vision, you can tell that’s something he really believes in too.
It’s one thing to talk about giving chances to academy players, or to put them in your squad on a matchday, but more than that, you really get the sense that Wenger has a personal relationship with Arsenal’s youngsters.
On Wednesday, a video emerged of Wenger greeting 18-year-old trio Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock. He gave Nketiah a playful jab, Willock a double fist-bump, and then squared up to try and tackle Nelson.
I couldn’t help smiling when I watched it, and wondering if managers like Jose Mourinho even greet their youngsters individually.
First it was Rob Holding, now it is Reiss Nelson skilling Wenger.
Expect to see him benched for the rest of the season. pic.twitter.com/4z3Us9WNVf
— Simon Collings (@sr_collings) February 21, 2018
That sense of almost parental leadership Wenger gives off isn’t something new.
Jack Wilshere told Soccer AM last month: “I’m sure if Danny was sat here and you asked [who the teacher’s pet is] he’d say me. He always says that the boss is my dad. I’ve got a great relationship with the boss here.”
Robin van Persie, who left Arsenal for Manchester United in acrimonious circumstances, recently told reporters: “I owe everything to Arsene Wenger. He has been crucial for me in my development as a player and as a person.
“I only have warm memories. I enjoyed every day, every minute I worked, trained and played for Arsene. This is why I want him to be successful with Arsenal. He deserves it.”
Meanwhile, Thierry Henry told Sky Sports in 2014: “I have been fortunate to play for some extremely gifted coaches. But Arsene is more than just a great manager to me because he was a father figure and a mentor.
“I will never forget his advice and guidance over the years and without him I wouldn’t have achieved half the milestones in my career.
“He deserves all the accolades as he has had a huge impact on Arsenal Football Club and the lives of many players. Long may it continue.”
For Wenger, management is more than just a job, it’s his life. He genuinely cares about his players as people, and defends them to a fault.
It would’ve been the easiest thing in the world to throw Alexis Sanchez under the bus after his departure to Manchester United in January. Instead, Wenger argued against journalists claiming the Chilean was only after money:
“Sanchez is a great guy and he has always been committed. No matter how the negotiations went he was always focused on football. Of course the financial aspect is important, but he could combine both.
“I think he’s going to a great club and he gets a great contract, so you can understand that a professional player can combine both aspects.”
All that comes in addition to the many happy footballing memories the manager has given me.
Thanks to Wenger, I can say I was there on the day Arsenal won the league unbeaten.
I went to the first Champions League final this club ever qualified for.
I’ve watched my team win seven FA Cups in the last 20 years alone.
I doubt we’ll ever see another manager achieve what Wenger has at Arsenal, but even if his departure brings a new era of success, I won’t celebrate the day he leaves.