Monsieur Arsene Wenger. Long-time manager of Arsenal, my club’s arch-rivals. Since he arrived at Arsenal in 1996 from Japan, that club (who, for those unfamiliar with English football club geography, are a South London team from Woolwich residing in North London temporarily for the past century or so, a few miles south of native North London team Tottenham Hotspur, my team) went into terminal incline, winning big trophy after big trophy as if some day winning trophies would go out of fashion. Meanwhile, Spurs remained fashionably trophy-free, except for a couple of league cups, the ‘thinking man’s trophy’, and beat Arsenal hands down in the ‘number of managers’ league table. Now Tottenham are flying high as the top London club (check the league table, Chelsea, it does not lie), third in the table, while Arsenal are languishing in a lowly fifth, with only the prospect of a second-leg Champions League tie against Bayern Munich to keep them entertained. “Champions League”, haha – you don’t even have to be a Champion to be in it. It’s like a game at a kid’s party where you tell the kid who came last that “they’re a winner too”. With a fashionably hip seven years without a trophy, and an attitude at the club that 4th place is the same as getting a trophy for the cabinet, Arsene is riding high, being talked about more than ever, and his players are so good that other competing clubs are lining up to buy them.
I actually feel sorry for Arsene Wenger. Despite about fifteen years of living in an undeniably massive Arsenal-shaped shadow, until just a few years ago, I cant deny that he is one of the game’s true legends. He changed Arsenal from being boring-boring 1-0 merchants to one of the most exciting teams in the world. When they did that invincible season, nearly a decade ago, and Thierry Henry was in my mind the best player in the world, it was pretty hard to argue with that. With no trophies for the past seven years, even many Arsenal fans are calling for Monsieur Wenger to call it ‘un jour’. His methods were a revolution in their time, but their time has passed. Ferguson, on the other hand, continues to win, win, win. Arsenal are not competing in the age of the Billionaires, the Chelsea-City nouveaux-riches, but despite banking their money on every turn they are increasingly being seen as the Weakest Link (but then, compare them with how Liverpool have fallen). and as Spurs rise and rise, I should be laughing at them as I go, but I’m finding myself feeling sorry for them. They are not the lottery-winners of your Chelseas and your Citys (and your, um, QPRs), and I do believe that in the long run acting sensibly with football money will pay off, but well, selling your best players to your rivals, that’s just silly. When games go badly on the pitch for Arsenal it is amplified; Wenger was accused of not taking the FA Cup seriously when they were knocked out by lowly opposition, and he angrily retorted that he has won that competition four times, arguing “name me one manager who has won it more” (the answer is Alex Ferguson, by the way, if not counting dead managers in which case there are three others). Last Sunday, Spurs beat Arsenal 2-1 in a big derby game, but if it had gone the other way, we’d have only been a point apart. At a similar time last year they beat us 5-2, and we were something like ten points ahead – and Arsenal ended up catching us, beating us to third place. That is the measure of Wenger, he can still pull it off. I’m sure he would prefer to leave on a high, finish his Arsenal career with one last big trophy, but if he doesn’t (and as devoutly Tottenham and anti-Arsenal as I am, the romantic in me kind of hopes that he does), I hope he isn’t forced out by the impatient salmon-sandwich bunch at the Emirates. If he should go, they’ll soon realize that their club will have lost their greatest figure since Herbert Chapman.
Drawn on a Chinese envelope in uni-ball sign um-151 (brown and red) with white gel pen.