Published On: Fri, Apr 20th, 2018

Wenger merits unanimous praise for role as Premier League pillar

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A monument that stands the test of time is no less remarkable because of its flaws.

Arsene Wenger announced Friday that this season at Arsenal would be his last, capping off a celebrated 22-year tenure with the north London lot.

Tributes to the Frenchman dominate the news as players and peers, past and present, honour a man who changed English football for the better. His greatest managerial foe, Sir Alex Ferguson, commended Wenger’s “professionalism, talent, and determination,” and the finest player of Le Professeur’s era, Thierry Henry, says the gaffer leaves “an untouchable legacy.”

Wenger merits the praise, and although his decorated spell has deteriorated of late, the touchline tactician stands as a monument of the game, bowing out with the dignity and class that epitomises his time in the Premier League.

His influence extends beyond the Gunners – beyond Wengerball, beyond the careers he expedited, and beyond his influence on the club’s current standing and his role in promoting the prestige of the Arsenal.

The panache and pace that peak Arsenal played with became a template, as did the emphasis on players’ diets and the focus on unearthing emerging stars on the continent. Wenger built squads that were tantalising to watch. Fluid, penetrating attacks and lightning-quick one-touch passes and flicks challenged Manchester United’s organised and spirited football to forge the greatest rivalry of the Premier League era, and the English game is better for it. “In terms of the football they played, the biggest compliment I can give him is that he played a level and brand of football that made us change the way we played, which you don’t say about too many teams,” wrote former United defender Gary Neville.

Wenger’s critics have had their say, and today, their crocodile tears mingle with those of the lot who backed the gaffer. His tenure had justly become a divisive topic among Arsenal supporters. With each 8-2 defeat at United, or 10-2 aggregate thumping against Bayern Munich, or FA Cup dismissal at the hands of a bang-average Nottingham Forest, the “Wenger In” crowd shrunk. It’s not an inappropriate response to a manager whose successes are weighted toward the first half of his Arsenal tenure, but today, the plaudits should prevail.

Three top-flight titles, a record seven FA Cups, and the Invincibles season highlight a CV that should be the focus on Friday, as well as over Arsenal’s remaining seven scheduled fixtures and a hopeful Europa League final.

“To all the Arsenal lovers, take care of the values of the club,” Wenger said Friday. “My love and support for ever.”

Now, it’s time for that love and support to be universally shown for Wenger.

He’ll undoubtedly get his statue outside the Emirates alongside Bergkamp, Henry, Chapman, Adams, and Friar – a well-earned honour for a man whose tenure at Arsenal is in itself a pillar of Premier League football.

Even the most beloved monuments suffer the consequences of time. They tell a story of not only a moment or person worth celebrating, but also the conditions they’ve endured.

Merci, Arsene.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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