What Wenger did was make Arsenal the most enjoyable sports team to watch. Photo: Ian Walton/Reuters
What Wenger did was make Arsenal the most enjoyable sports team to watch. Photo: Ian Walton/Reuters
Arsene Wenger left an indelible mark and will be missed, writes Stuart Hess.
Arsene Wenger left an indelible mark and will be missed, writes Stuart Hess.

JOHANNESBURG – ‘What a way to sum up the footballing philosophy of Arsene Wenger," boomed commentator Martin Tyler as Tony Adams’s goal against Everton in the last match of the season, 20-years-ago now, was being replayed.

Steve Bould - Adams’ sidekick in the legendary back four from the 1997/98 championship winning team - had clipped the most delicious through ball to a hard running Adams, who subsequently lashed the thing home with his left foot.

It was at about that stage that I fell in love with Wenger. Not love love, but the kind of love you have for the guy that makes your team better than the rest.

What Wenger did was make Arsenal the most enjoyable sports team to watch for most of his 22 years in charge at the club.

I don’t remember what I thought when Wenger was appointed manager of Arsenal in 1996. I quite liked his predecessor Bruce Rioch, but that was only because he was in charge when Arsenal signed Dennis Bergkamp - my favourite all time Arsenal player - and I reckoned Rioch was the smartest manager in the world.

Of course, as it would turn out, Bergkamp needed Wenger as much as Wenger needed Bergkamp and their manager/player combo made for some the best football that’s ever been played.

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Arsene Wenger has brought me much joy in the last 22 years. I prefer to focus on that rather than the recent periods of anguish, when he often looked old and his teams appeared stale. 

The alertness and speed with which his great Arsenal sides played - the 1997/98 side, the 2001/02 team, even the 2002/03 group (which really should have won the Premiership title) - played football that seemed otherworldly. And then there was ‘The Invincibles’.

Heck, along with the frustration there’s even some romanticism about his defeats - the most painful being in Paris in 2006 followed by Old Trafford in 2011 and Anfield in 2008 (I stopped talking to close friends for 6 months after that one). But you reluctantly take those, because it makes the joyous times so much sweeter.

Dennis Bergkamp - the writer's all-time favourite Arsenal player. Photo: Alan Walter/Reuters
Dennis Bergkamp - the writer's all-time favourite Arsenal player. Photo: Alan Walter/Reuters

It’s been a case of mixed emotions these last few weeks since Wenger announced he is leaving Arsenal. Yes, the club needs to change the manager, he should have left in 2014 after winning that FA Cup against Hull. But even if one feels that way, you also can’t get away from what he’s done at Arsenal and in English football.

The club handled Wenger’s last home match in charge last Sunday in typically classic fashion. His speech was short but meaningful.

It’s going to be very strange watching Arsenal next season without Wenger being on the touchline. 

The scale of the changes he’s made are virtually immeasurable; culture, style, stadium and structure are all hugely different from what was the case when he arrived.

He’s left an indelible mark. I will miss him.



The Star

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