In April 2018 aged 68, Arsene Wenger announced that he would step down as Arsenal Manager at the end of the season. The decision was made amid a cacophony of discontent surrounding his future. Many loyal gunners fans believed this was to be the right time for the frenchman to finally pass the baton on to the next man - who themselves, would be able to therefore create their own dynasty for years to come.
Having not won the Premier League in 14 years, Arsenal had slowly started to slip away from the front runners in an era that saw Chelsea and Manchester United battle it out for top spot over a decade or so. Manchester City also emerged onto the scene, boasting a far greater financial muscle and with Liverpool and Tottenham building on previous declines to become forces once again - competition at the top was becoming fiercer. Combine this with Leicester's unprecedented run to the Premier League title in 2016 - it looked as if the need for change was imminent. Yet how can a club simply change a manager who had achieved so much for them? Wenger built the club into what it is today, through a drastic change in it's player recruitment and club philosophy - introducing unheard of match preparation, nutrition and training techniques.
Back in 1996, 'Le Professeur' as he was quickly labelled - adopted a team who were belligerent to his outlook. A squad and club who's culture was surrounded by drinking and tuesday pub trips - Wengers arrival signalled a significant point in the Gunners History. Gone were the old guard's drinking culture and in came a plethora of professional enhancements - which quickly started to breed confidence into his players. Ian Wright, Tony Adams and Lee Dixon, found themselves captivated by their new bosses alien approach to the game - being a team so used to the almost obsessively defensive mindset of George Graham. Having won over the long serving British players within his squad, Wenger soon started to slowly add foreign imports to his playing staff - the majority, largely unknown at the time. Whilst never 'breaking the bank', Wengers cleverly astute transfer philosophy began to pay dividends. The additions of French players; Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Robert Pires, Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry - all proved a masterstroke. Acquired for less than what rivals were paying, Wenger had a framework and vision for success - knowing precisiely the character and talents he needed to build a team capable of de-throning Fergie's Manchester United. Utilising the incredibly stubborn British defensive talents at his disposal, Arsene created a system that would inevitably bring success. David Seaman, an England international goalkeeper exuded a calmness at the back so fitting of his new manager. Leaders Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Nigel Winterburn and Steve Bould had already achieved so much as a unit and therefore the defence needed little or no tweaking. In identifying a clear lack of technical nouse and creativity in midfield - Wenger clearly felt a dependable and willing runner in the middle of the part was still necessary, to allow the exotic new imports to do what they do best. That man was Ray Parlour - the perfect answer for supplimenting the talents around him - yet still able to score a healthy number every season. With Dennis Bergkamp already on his books - (a player who was the hub of what everything Arsenal excelled at) - Wenger had the formula. The pace of Henry, the combative and technically excellent Petit and Vieira, the magic on the wings from Robert Pires and the majestic link-up play from Bergkamp. Everything just seemed to fit.
The league and cup double in 1998, followed by another league win in 2002 prompted a head to head battle between Manchester United for domestic glory which lasted a decade - no other teams would win the league until Jose Mourinho's Chelsea in 2005. Wenger had arrived a relatively unknown quantity and within 10 years had changed the whole state of the British game. Other clubs witnessing the revolution at Highbury and their results took note - and soon started to follow suite. Broadening their scouting networks and adopting the Frenchman's professionalism into their own culture - this soon began to diversify every Premier League Clubs horizons, generating greater success on and off the field - a trend which continued into the following decade.
Arsenal continued into the early to mid noughties in the same vein as the late nineties. Thierry Henry, now completely at home in England, transformed into the worlds best striker. Not your typical Centre Forward - Thierry simply offered so much more than his rivals. Hitting at least 20 goals in all competitions every season until 2006, Henry was in a world of his own - week in, week out. The squad Wenger had built - allowed new talent to effortlessly slot in when needed. Nwankwo Kanu, the gangly, unorthodox, yet technically incredible Nigerian joined the ranks as back-up. A wildcard off the bench capable of winning games on his own, truly highlighted the general happiness and respect every player to a man had for Arsene. Other players - notably, Freddie Ljungberg, Lauren, Kolo Toure and Jose Antonio Reyes would later join the squad over the years - supplementing the already stable team or replacing the old guard who had done great service in Wenger's early years and for the club in general. When Sir Alex Ferguson was faced with building new era's at United - Arsene Wenger was to, and keeping up.
By May 2004, Arsenal were undoubtedly at the peak of their powers - a club who were up in the record books as one of the very best. 'The Invincibles' - as they were labelled - for completing the entire 2003/04 season wihout being defeated - had reached unprecedented heights within the domestic game. Technically superior to every other team in the league, Arsenal oozed class on a weekly basis. Goals were scored from every angle and coupled with a gritty edge when needed - Arsene possessed a team who simply had no faults in their ranks. With a cluster of world stars now in their peak, in terms of playing age, The gunners left Highbury in 2006 having endured a decade of success, trophies and memories fans could only have dreamt of. They were now leaving their old ground, into a state-of-the-art 60,000 capacity stadium just down the road. Almost doubling in size from Highbury, Arsene had masterminded the move - as a long term vision to truly compete with Manchester United and Chelsea - both mantaining success on the field and boosting revenues to a similar level to other rivals across Europe. Highbury had its charm, like most old grounds do - but the the glimmering hope of huge new stadium, meant 'catching up with the times' was paramount for the club. To sustain Wengers decade of success from 1996 - Arsenal needed to build on it, generate the sums of money needed to reinvest and become a global brand - not just a succesful football team.
In hindsight, a lot was riding on the 2006 Champions league Final, in Paris. Arsenal had reached the final but were drawn against the worlds best in Barcelona. An early error from Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, resulted in his dismissal - thus ending any real hopes of becoming victorious. It was a harsh way to end a decade that had brought so much. A culminative ending of becoming officially Europe's best would've marked a real sense of intent and personal ambition of a squad who had achieved everything that they could've won - with the prospect of a new generation on the horizon in a new stadium - further success and further European Finals in the future seemed almost inevitable with Wenger at the helm.
With the vast majority of his Invincibles superstars either having departed, departing or having aged - Wenger simply had to build a new Arsenal. An Arsenal ideal for the Emirates stadium and ideal for the modern premier league club game. Money had slowly started to dictate the league standings - notably Chelsea's new found wealth from owner Roman Abramovich bought inevitable short term success. Eye watering sums of money, unheard of in the sport at that time, were now being spent on acquiring Europe's top talent and delivering trophies instantaneously, within a few years. The top 2, was now a top 3.
Wenger - an ambassador of carefulness - approached the game in a meticulous manner, both in terms of his team structure and the transfer market. Never paying more than necessary, he throughout his time at Arsenal, always followed his protocol when it came to finding a new player to supplement his squad. Not wanting to upset the apple cart - Wenger would always thoroughly ensure the player was the perfect fit for his team, maintaining a sense of praticality and clever business management. Players wages were always at a manageable level - simply structured on a basis of merit, opposed to reputation and this was somewhat echoed in his transfer dealings. Manchester United and Chelsea often spent over £30 million on players over a period in which Arsene settled on no more than £15 million - a figure which set the benchmark for their record arrival, Andrey Arshavin in January 2009. His preference of wanting to maintain order within the transfer market soon started to irritate the faithful as Arsenal started to slip behind in the pecking order. 6 years after winning the Premier League in 2004 - the gunners hadn't won it since - sparking a thought amongst the fans who had loved him during his first decade at the club - was he out of touch? And was a change needed now?
In those early years at the Emirates, when the iconic stars of before had now left the club - the fact is, Arsene simply didn't have the funds needed to necessary compete and maintain there reputation as title challengers. Having cost the club just under £400 million to construct - the balance sheets needed a period of stability in order to recoup the cost. It was always going to be a long term strategy switching stadium, yet it was deemed essential for long term success - and with the master of the transfer market and player development in charge of the club - it was a decision that they felt would work. Yes, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and co were no longer at the club, but a new era was inevitable - so why not now? Why not now whilst the newly increased revenues from match gates were coming in?
In Emmanuel Adebayor, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Eboue and Bakary Sagna - they had a new nucleus of talented youngsters Wenger felt were able to make the step up and challenge. It was a bold call placing so much trust in fairly inexperienced talents - yet Arsene knew the formula. He knew the British game was evolving as more emphasis was placed upon technique and talent from across the world - opposed to the 'never say die' attitude of British Football pre Wenger era.
One thing Wenger perhaps didn't anticipate, adapt or prioritise regarding the British Game, was indeed the ever changing economic climate that dictated the top end of the Premier League. Transfer Fees continued to grow post 2010 - wages too. Money was now more important than ever - from the top, to mid table security, all the way to the bottom - it had so much bearing on football clubs to the point that not spending, soon signalled not competing. Rivals soon maintained their dominace through a combination of maximising revenues across the world, maintaining top personnel and continually buying better - every year. Arsenal however, were simply finding themselves having to sell their own stars, due to them wanting to play for the best teams and win trophies - a promise Arsene couldn't guarantee, nor convince as he continued to play it safer in the transfer market. Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Adebayor and Van Persie all left for bigger and better things. All of these enjoyed highly successful stints under Wenger - but all opted for pastures new when the allure of the big time came calling. Arsenal were further slipping behind and the players paramount in Wenger's vision for future success both domestically and in Europe were leaving every summer - resulting in a need to rebuild again and again.
2013 seemed to mark a slight change at the Emirates. They had been at their new stadium for 7 years by now and their finances were increasingly improving, as the costs declined year on year. Boasting a new found healthy bank balance some managers could only dream of, Arsene had the funds at his disposal to reignite his ambition to regain a reputation both as a club and as a manager. He needed to acknowledge that the game had simply moved on - money had become far too important, therefore his philosophy had to adapt. His task was huge - turn a club that had declined so much so that they were simply competing to stay within the top 4 - albeit an incredible achievement he had managed to maintain. His power and influence on the club was overwhelming. A man who had a say in everything, no matter the importance - was trusted once again with the job. A job that was his for as long as he wanted.
That same year, Alex Ferguson left Manchester United and the whole structure struggled to cope without their talisman of 27 trophy-laden winning years. Not wanting to replicate what had happened at old trafford and with Arsene now seemingly spending big enough to compete in the transfer market - the possibility that success was on the horizon became and ever increasing reality. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez were brought in for sums equal to their rivals and with a nucleus of promising British Talent in; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, it seemed that the fomula Arsene adopted in the late 90's and early 2000's was beginning to show itself once again. A year on and with Manchester United faltering, Liverpool unlikely to financially compete and Tottenham not yet at a good enough level to win the league, Arsenal were now amongst the top 3 contenders it seemed - alongside ever consistent Chelsea and Manchester City (the new big spenders in town). It looked from the outside that Wenger was still managing to compete in an era dominated by excessive financial muscle - and still deliver. They ended their long running wait for a trophy in that summer, winning the FA Cup - a sign that things were looking up. The league still eluded them, yet another FA cup win at wembley in 2015 reinvigorated Arsene - it showed the competing pack that they were sill in the reckoning and Arsene still had that magic touch.
The 2015/16 was the most unpredictable Premier League Season Arsene had ever witnessed. Manchester United still flattering to decieve under Louis Van Gaal were a long way off the pace - likewise Chelsea who having won in 2015, endured a torrid campaign in mid table. Liverpool were starting a rebuilding process under Klopp and hadn't managed to hit the heights in his opening season - whilst Manchester City, now a regular in the top 2, suffered an equally disappointing season, languishing in 4th - a poor return considering their financial power. Tottenham, an unlikely front runner under Mauricio Pochettino, were soon starting to develop as a team and found themselves in unchartered territory, competing for he top prize for the first time in the premier league era. However, no one could quite fathom just how Leicester City, a team only just promoted to the top flight the season before could possibly be amongst the top echelons of Englands Premier division. Bookmakers had offered punters a staggering 5,000-1 for the Foxes to win - deeming it almost certainly impossible. With that in mind, Wengers squad were favourites in a seemingly 2 horse race against their old arch rivals, Spurs. Wengers patience and inclination of always maintaining a steady ship was seeming to pay off. Fans who had long lambasted his steady and unfashionable approach to modern football were now faced with a long awaited run to the league title once again - 12 years after their last.
From that moment onwards though - in what seemed like a league which was Arsenal's to lose and there for the taking - his plans and dreams started to unravel once more. The belief of his players as the rank outsiders Leicester, drifted away from them on way to winning the league come May, left Arsene completely bereft of any new impetus. This was their chance to end any doubts fans and the media had. This was their opportunity to finally rediscover that winning touch which had eluded them for the best of a decade. Arsenes time was now up and everyone around the club - the staff, boardroom and media all knew it. The players knew it and the people who loved Wenger, his philosophy, his style of management and his gentlemanly approach to his passion knew it too -and most likely, so did Arsene.
Arsene continued as manager for another two seasons. They drifted out of the top 4 for the first time under his management and were no longer a team capable of winning the Premier League. The club needed rebuilding - a fresh start. It needed a new pair of eyes and a restart button - completely taking on a differing approach to running the club so that they could continue to, at least compete again. Arsene is still the man that made Arsenal into what it is today - none of their recent success over the past 20 years or so would've occurred had it not been for Arsene - he simply revolutionised the club, its staff, the fans and the game as a whole in this country. Le Professeur was simply punished for loving Football a little too much.