Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Reflections on Wenger: United & Liverpool fans have their say

When Arsene Wenger announced he’d be leaving Arsenal, we were treated to the unusual sight of the Frenchman being serenaded by opposition supporters who in years gone by had made a habit of barracking him.

From Old Trafford to the King Power, they rose and they applauded. For Arsene, a man who steadfastly refused to look backwards, the penny seemed to drop that he’d done something pretty special in his 22-years at Arsenal.

He relaxed a bit. Soaked up the love. Cracked a few jokes for the press. And that wry grin of his came to the fore.

Football waits for no man – #MerciArsene has quickly made way for #WelcomeUnai – but Wenger’s legacy will live on. Not just for Arsenal supporters, but also for the fans of those clubs with which we so regularly locked horns.

Below Laurie and David Shaw, brothers who support Manchester United and Liverpool respectively, reflect on what Arsene Wenger symbolised for them.

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I used to have this recurring nightmare. It starts in the last minute of an FA Cup semi-final. Ray Parlour bursts into the penalty area and is scythed down by Phil Neville; without hesitation, the referee points to the spot. Dennis Bergkamp steps up and… blasts the ball into the bottom corner. Arsenal win the game and my dream of the Treble is no more. Then I wake up…

I know this is meant to be a tribute to Arsene Wenger, but I’m sorry: I’m a United fan and I had to start somewhere.

Wenger versus Ferguson was English football’s greatest and longest-enduring managerial rivalry. From Wenger’s arrival, through the ‘Invincible’ season, war raged between Arsenal and United, a sustained conflict of an intensity that we have not experienced since. The auld way versus the new wave, every match seemed to be about so much more than the points. As a spectacle, it was football at its best. Perhaps it was fitting that the first words of Arsene’s Emirates farewell were of support to his old adversary, a testament to his character.

When he arrived, Wenger was only the third non-British or Irish manager in the Premier League; there has since been over 50 more. Every fan must agree that Wenger had a huge impact on professional football in this country, imposing diets and discipline, applying science and psychology. He personally expanded England’s footballing horizon, using his knowledge and contacts to scout and recruit exceptional talents at relatively low cost from abroad, particularly France. Anelka, Vieira, Petit, Henry, Pires and Wiltord: he imported and developed French talent just as France was dominating international football.

It wasn’t Ferguson that eventually caused the trophies to dry up. By investing in the Emirates, Wenger was preparing Arsenal to compete in the long-term. Then the ground shifted beneath him. No prudent financial planning could compete with the billions that subsequently poured in from Russian and Saudi oil. In the ten years that followed the Invincible season, both Man City and Chelsea spent a net total of nearly £500m (which would be considerably more in today’s market), and United over £200m. Arsenal, in comparison, just about broke even. If Abramovich and the Abu Dhabi Group had never arrived, I wonder how many more titles Arsene might have won.

However, some EPL titles are worth more than others. I doubt any Arsenal fan would exchange the Invincible season for a few additional Premier League wins. Wenger’s teams have given fans memories that money can’t buy. Like watching Leicester win the title, it’s something that everyone should be glad about. Will a certain “specialist in success” be remembered as fondly?

Here’s to you Arsene, and thanks for all you’ve done (except the nightmares).

Laurie Shaw is the brains behind EightyFivePoints – a fascinating football-orientated data blog

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I too have a recurring nightmare. It starts on an unseasonably warm day in May 2001. Arsenal’s svelte and stylish midfielders swarm forward against a stolid Liverpool. In the 17th minute, Patrick Vieira – having his own personal field day against a buzzcut Stevie G – slips a cute pass through to Thierry Henry. He rounds Westerveld and seems certain to score…only to see his goal-bound shot elbowed away by Swiss slogger Stephane Henchoz.

In classic football parlance, it’s an absolute stonewaller. It’s duly awarded, Henchoz is sent-off, and Henry slots home. 1-0 down, down to ten men, and already hopelessly outclassed, Liverpool succumb to a 5-0 hammering against a rampant Arsenal. In despair, my callow, 18-year-self spends the rest of the evening trying to go drink-for-drink with a maniac who once downed a pint of rum in 10 seconds, and ends the night slumped outside the University of London Union in a pool of my own vomit.

Ok, so that last bit did actually happen. But the rest didn’t: waking in a cold sweat, I remember that the referee inexplicably missed Henchoz’s handball, Liverpool kept 10 men on the field and, despite deservedly falling behind, eventually won the game in classic smash and grab fashion thanks to two late goals from part-time helicopter salesman Michael Owen. We won the 2001 FA Cup, the second trophy in our very own treble. It wasn’t quite 1984, but for a trophy-starved club, it felt like Heaven. It felt like the start of something.

As it turned out, it was a brief LFC highlight in an era otherwise dominated by Arsenal. At Liverpool, we had our own French maestro, Gerard Houllier. He did well for a while, but his safety-first approach and disastrous forays in the transfer market – El Hadji Diouf, anyone? – produced football that was, well…how can I put this? You remember Valdano’s shit on a stick? It was, truly, shit on a stick. Houllier’s innate lack of imagination, his defensive proclivity and his disastrous taste for Hubris (“we’re 10 games from greatness”) saw Liverpool slide into gloomy, angst-ridden mediocrity. Arsenal, meanwhile, went stellar.

Not only did they win trophies, they did so in the most exhilarating fashion, slicing teams asunder in displays graced with exquisite technique and copious helpings of Gallic insouciance. Panache, joie de vivre, savoir-faire, je ne sais quoi…call it what you will, Wenger’s Arsenal had it. They won, and they won beautifully. At their best, Arsene’s Arsenal were glorious. At their worst, Houllier’s Liverpool made you want to go home and stick needles in your eyes.

Henry, Vieira, Petit, Van Persie…league titles, FA Cups, rain-soaked tragedy in Paris…they had it all.

And now it’s all over.

Perhaps, ultimately, Wenger succumbed to his own personal Hubris. Undying fidelity to an aesthetic ideal, however heroic, will eventually lead to your demise. After all, “Show me a hero…

But Arsene Wenger was a hero. And not just an Arsenal hero. A footballing hero.

And it is as a hero that he will be remembered.

Arsene: Adieu.

David doesn’t have a blog. But he does really like Liverpool.

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arseaddict

Good to get the perspectives of our ‘rival fans’. it’s good to know that Wenger hating ‘fans’ are jut limited to Facebook & Twitter. Because at times, I seriously worry that the yardstick for being called a ‘fan’ is changing in today’s times

Daft Aider

“And not just an Arsenal hero. A footballing hero.”

Says it all

Nacho Cheese Kalevra

One Arsene Wenger

Fatgooner

Arsene Wenger is now history. Personally, I don’t want to hear any more about that senile, pathetic has-been, who was quite rightly booted out of the club on his anus. I’m looking forward to a bright future with a new young(ish) manager who can hopefully restore the glory to our magnificent club. Interesting Arseblog posting today, with both clever and not-so-clever thoughts. Blogs is right about the recent signings: we need a couple of mature heads to tighten up the defence, and hopefully bring in some leadership. They’re not long-term buys but who cares? But he’s wrong about the Europa… Read more »

Yagaru

Wanker

Futsboller

Ah, Fatgooner, always biting the hand that feeds you. Arsene served some pretty delicious football and brought the club a few Michelin stars in his 22 years, and it’s a shame you can’t savour that with the rest of us. You are, however, quite right to say that Arsene Wenger is now history, insofar as his name is written permanently in the history of our club and our global sport: he changed Arsenal FC for the better, he changed English football for the better, and he represented the club with a class and dignity and sportsmanship that makes most of… Read more »

Fatgooner

Oh, dear! The Wenger-lovers just can’t let go, can they? Here’s the truth about Arsene Wenger: There are actually TWO Arsene Wengers. One is the brilliant young manager who turned up in 1996 and transformed the club with his inventive ideas and exciting football. He brought great success and style to the club. But he left the building in about 2008. The other is the sad, selfish, deluded, arrogant old fool who – even though he was hurting the club with his hopeless mismanagement – wouldn’t walk away, and therefore had to be sacked. This AW expected the club to… Read more »

A Different George

It’s interesting that a Man United supporter could understand the effect of building a new stadium and the influx of oligarch/oil money on Arsenal’s fortunes, while you can only blame the “mismanagement” of a “senile old man.”

People who love football (and this includes Wenger and Ferguson) share something that seems well beyond you.

John C

Fatgooner is spot on, and the effects of the stadium/oil money/oligarchs is overplayed otherwise we wouldn’t have amassed £180m in cash reserves during that period. Wenger used that as a ruse to justify his arrogant belief that he “made stars not bought them” and that we had entered a financial bubble that was about to burst, both were proven to be incorrect. Now would we be any better off had we spent those cash reserves during that period, who knows but my guess would be yes. The rumoured signings of players of the quality and age of Papastathopoulos and Lichtsteiner… Read more »

Fatgooner

Thanks, John, for touching on another aspect of the Wenger reign which made my blood boil: the endless lies and spin. From the predictable “war chest” bullshit every summer to the endless excuses why he couldn’t compete – “financial doping”, “biased referees” – Wenger always had an answer for his incompetence. And whenever he was cornered he would come out with the pathetic “people who criticise me have never worked a day in football” bollocks. That was a particularly nasty, arrogant statement. It showed just how much up his own arse he was. He wasn’t allowed to be criticised, even… Read more »

A P

He should shove a rake up your ass, Fats.

John C

Absolutely right, his arrogant, sexist treatment of Jacqui Oatley springs to mind in that regard.

As you say, there were 2 Wenger’s, the first one was a inventive, cutting edge manager of successful athletic, strong, and skilful teams.

The second was a petulant, arrogant, childish excuse maker who refused to rise to the challenge the billionaire owners introduced.

Sànde Class

As always a very subjective opinion Days but this time you – sadly I might add – make a lot of sense. ✌

Teryima Adi

You take this personal, don’t you, Fatgooner?

DB10s Air Miles

You really are a massive cunt!

Goonerink

Maybe you should have more class…

Runzac

Fats doing what he does best – oozing fat bastard´s classlessness

A P

I look forward to people spitting on your grave.

sahil

Go fuck youurself

shokim

Arsene Wenger did more for Arsenal and English football than you could admit, FatGooner. It’s time to let it go. Don’t let your personal unhappiness taint his legacy.

Chidi

The like/dislike button came just in time blogs… Thanks! Cheers

Sànde Class

I’ve always liked your outspoken persona but this time, your persona seems to have taken
a very belligerent turn. For the far worse.
Mainly coz of the unnecessary first few lines about Le(gendary) Prof.

Kunlewoye

I just love how you follow through with being an outright cunt.

To the end.

When you want to be.

You make me angry and elicit a genuine chuckle out of me at the same damn time!

Teryima Adi

@who was quite rightly booted out of the club on his anus says a lot about you as a person. You lack the moral integrity to judge people who are better than you.

Devlin

Even if he did fail to not only use the finances when they finally became available, his obsession with development instead of focussing on the present and also his failure to build a balanced squad in his final years. It is amazing that fans were able to put all of that aside and show him how much he meant to not only Arsenal, but the entire premier league. I personally loved his sides during the early years at the Emirates, like the 07/08 team. I watch full games from that season and I just try to imagine what that group… Read more »

D ceee

I too appreciate the great players and sometimes great football..but there were too many failures. Ironically hus last few years, in terms of trophies, were amongst the most successful. But i had just grown bored of it all. I.m happy we have a new manager. Plus ca change

Red-Sky

Wow, people are still on about that…

ForeignGooner

Surprising, isn’t? been a few years since Wenger left.

santori

More mature fans then ours. Liverpool no the value of Wenger. Worth reminding some of the pundits that constantly champion their cause regardless of failure (work in progress they deem it) that Liverpool have not won a title in the PL and for over a quarter century now. Even with supposed genius Klopp, their best is 2nd spot. United know the pain of transition from Fergie who left them on a high but with a squad on its last legs. Wenger has left us outside CL for second season running but with a squad yet to reach its potential but… Read more »

Sal

Just when I was getting over it all, I find yet another bit of grit making my eyes water.

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