by Lewis Ambrose
Come September, Arsène Wenger would have been in England for 19 years.
Over that period the landscape of English football has changed immeasurably, as have Arsenal as a club. Wenger reignited the team to win two doubles, a further title in 2004 and the FA Cup in 2003. The club outgrew Highbury, moved stadium, and is barely recognisable.
The game itself has changed in this country, with increasing focus and effort on players from abroad joining and more technical players being developed. Ahead of another season in England, Wenger has said he now loves the game in this country.
“I have learnt to love English football,” said the Arsenal manager.
“I was always impressed by it [before] but I think I’ve learnt the culture of the country much better and the culture of Arsenal Football Club.
“There is a mixture in England that is absolutely special. It’s this respect for tradition that makes you feel as though the game was created here.”
That is a lasting impression with English football. The first real major league in the world and pioneers of the game, there is a kind of custodianship over it.
The clubs which have been biggest throughout history are more or less still the clubs at the top of the league nowadays, with a few exceptions, and England has led the way in allowing foreign managers and players into our country in order to improve our game.
“The Premier League has always moved forward and Arsenal has as well. There’s that mixture that is right in England and I hope we can keep that.
“The competitiveness of the league has become much stronger in the last 20 years,” added the boss. We still know which clubs will compete for the title each year but it is not so easy to predict any result. Thanks to broadcasting rights the Premier League is now at a stage where every team can have truly class players.
Arsenal have also grown, particularly with the move to Emirates Stadium.
“The change of structures inside the club has unbelievably changed, and the interest of the media and popularity of the sport has grown so much.
“On the other hand, the clubs have taken a different dimension. When I arrived Arsenal Football Club was 80 people. Today it’s 537. That tells you how much football has changed and that is tremendous. Hopefully in 20 years we will be 2,500.”
I’m not sure growing that much is quite what we would like but it seems almost inevitable that it will happen eventually. The club is always getting bigger and the potential for that growth is still massive.
We haven’t lost our game, but it has changed over the past two decades.