So it’s over. Almost. There will be no banging send-off, no trophy to mark the end of his days as Arsenal manager. Arsene Wenger is going out in the same way he spent the majority of his time at Arsenal – with European failure after a bit of a go.
So near, but yet so far. There was only one goal between Arsenal and Atletico Madrid at the end of 180 minutes of attack v defence, but it was the team with a well-practised plan that won, not the one with a fanciful dream of doing something they’ve been unable to do for years.
As the final whistle blew at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wenger’s European Arsenal career, I realised a frightening fact with brain-aching clarity.
I have become part of a cult.
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A shitty one, at that.
The game was done, the dream dead, and it was time for the manager to speak to the press. I thought about watching him explain but opted to turn the TV off instead. I didn’t want to see Arsene Wenger sad.
That’s when it struck me. He was the reason I was sad, yet I didn’t want to see him sad because I knew that would make me sadder.
How is that normal behaviour?
When Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal in 1996, none of us could have guessed we would be sitting here 22 years later talking about him finally leaving, but just a year into his tenure, we were already high from the fumes of his football.
If we could have mainlined their counter-attack straight into our Arsenal-stained veins, we would have.
In the midst of that drug-addled haze, we declared Wenger a god among men and pledged our loyalty to him for an eternity. He could do no wrong. Arsene, as the saying goes, knows.
This was a man who not only went a full Premier League season unbeaten but predicted that his team could do it the year before. He didn’t only know, he could see the future, presenting visions of a footballing utopia Arsenal fans could roam until their dying days.
His disciples at the club, the board and owners, handed over control of all their worldly possessions to this messiah. They trusted him to deliver us all to the promised land of milk and honey where Arsenal would lift the Champions League.
We all believed.
But even as the cracks started to appear after the move to our new church at Ashburton Grove, we still couldn’t let go.
There is a weird quirk in human psychology that shows the more you challenge someone’s deeply held beliefs, the stronger they hold on to them. It didn’t matter what the critics, pundits, fans on the fringe or even our own eyes tried to tell us. We knew that Arsene Wenger was the man to lead us towards a new dawn.
Even now, as I watch Arsenal head for their worst ever league finish under Wenger, having just bungled their way out of Europe once again, part of me is still desperate to believe in him.
So what do we do?
Well, first up, we give ourselves a massive collective kick up the arse. Or, if you prefer, take the Koscielny route and kick a ball into your own face.
Then it’s time to get ourselves reacquainted with those long lost friends of logic and common sense.
For far too long emotion and sentiment have been allowed to rule over us like some sort of hormonal tyrant while the truth of what we’ve been watching for years was hidden behind promises that should’ve been delivered a long time ago.
We have been hoodwinked.
The sooner we admit to our own folly and hubris, the quicker we can start to turn things around.
Arsene Wenger was not the messiah, nor was he a very naughty boy, but he did deliver miracles.
He afforded Arsenal fans the right to be arrogant and demand Champions League football. He gave us dreams bigger than many imagined possible and a sense of entitlement we still wield despite expired warrant to this day.
On Sunday, allow yourself to feel the emotion of Arsene Wenger’s last ever game as Arsenal manager at the Emirates. Then brace yourself for a sad week, if you must. Turn up for the game at Huddersfield and cry your heart out.
But when you go to bed that night, before you fall asleep on your tear-stained pillow, remember this one thing. When you wake in the morning after a sad and broken sleep, the new dawn we’ve been chasing for so long will finally be here.
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