When Arsene Wenger announced stepping down from Arsenal after 22 years, it marked the end of an era. Perhaps, the relative drought of trophies in the latter half of his managerial career will always make some people look upon his tenure with skepticism.
But in truth, the contributions of Arsene Wenger to Premier League is enormous, and alongside Sir Alex Ferguson, he is the man who truly revolutionised English Football and made it matured and competitive enough to pose questions to its other European Counterparts. In one of our previous articles, we discussed how Eric Cantona brought the first French revolution in Premier League Football. The second French revolution and perhaps as important as the first one, was brought in by Arsene Wenger. Cantona was a phenomenal talent too big for Premier League to understand, and hence discarded by the reigning managers, until the Jeweler Sir Alex perfectly recognised the jewel and snatched him up thereby altering the history of Manchester United and premier league. Similarly, when the lanky,cultured,spectacled and soft spoken Manager came to Premier League with managing experience in Nancy,Monaco and Japan, the pundits and managers smirked at the folly and the supposed demise of Arsenal. Instead, the supposedly green eared french (though having coached almost a decade at that point) brought a whirlpool which transformed Arsenal as well as premier league culminating with his team being the only invincibles in the PL era, a feat they hold till today.
Arsenal were pretty successful under George Graham with two league medals and six major honours until Graham was sacked in an unfortunate illegal payment saga. Arsenal appointed Bruce Rioch and though he set the foundation for Arsene to step in by incorporating a possession based style of football and bringing in a certain player named Bergkamp, Arsenal finished fifth in his sole campaign.At that time, appointing a foreign manager was extremely rare in premier league with examples few and far between with most of them ending in disasters,with perhaps the only exception being Ruud Gullit as player manager at Chelsea. But Gullit was a world famous footballer renowned for his footballing knowledge and intelligence. Arsenal on the other hand appointed a man who looked more a teacher than a footballer, spoke multiple languages and had a degree in economics, and indeed the choice look strange and catastrophic from today’s point of view, not to mention in those times.But Arsene brought something completely different, he brought calmness and serenity to the team and club. At times when most managers in premier league were strict disciplinarians with the attitude of “its my way or highway” and regularly indulging in “hairdryer treatments”, Arsene opened up the window of healthy camaraderie and mutual respects just tapping up the importance and improvement of positive psychology in football.
When Arsene Wenger arrived at PL, drinking culture and unhealthy diet were rampant across premier league teams and rest of the other top European sides were miles ahead in professionalism and fitness. Though plaudits must go to Sir Alex, who had already incorporated great fitness regimes and healthy diet in Manchester United, what Wenger did was another revolution. He cut off sweets,chocolates,fats,coke etc and introduced healthy food and lots of vegetables.He banned smoking and drinking, introduced dietitians to improve fitness and stamina of players, introduced massage,stretching and yoga sessions to reduce injuries and increase concentration and also introduced supplements. This resulted in huge improvements of stamina and physical fitness of Arsenal players and they were head and shoulders above their counterparts in PL in this respect. The other PL sides took note of these improvements and quickly started incorporating them in their own system. Thus the wheels of improvement throughout the entire PL was set in motion by Arsene.
Not only did Arsene revolutionised the psychological and physical conditioning and fitness, he also brought a successful economical model and also gradually tweaked the playing style of Arsenal giving them an identity. He scouted, scrutinised players with great potential and added some already established players to form the backbone of a formidable side. Bergkamp was already there, in came Viera ,Petit and Overmars. Arsene overhauled his midfield qautret and formed a new midfield comprised of Overmars-Viera-Petit-Parlour, a perfect combination of speed,skill,energy and tenacity. Later he brought in Anelka and a certain Thierry Henry.Time and time again , Arsene Wenger showed , how successful this policy of his is, as we can see lots of young players with potential being turned into superstars by him, such as Cole, Toure, Fabregas, Van Persie etc. Arsene also realised, that a team needs an identity in the long run, a style or system, so that even the parts in the machine wears out, it can be quickly replaced with a new part and the whole system keeps on functioning smoothly. He changed the standard 3-5-2 of Arsenal into a 4-4-2 and gave importance on technical football with possession and crisp passing. Arsenal won a double in 97-98, another again in 01-02, embarked upon an undefeated run which ended with 49 unbeaten games, starting in October 2002 and ending in October 2004. Then came the shift of the stadium in 2006 and the transition phase.Though he did rejuvenated himself with three FA cups, after almost a decade without any trophy,but his aura and demeanor of the revolutionary man took a hit during this period.
Whatever the present football fans think about the legacy of the man, there should be no doubt that this is a man who revolutionized Arsenal and Premier League in whole in matters of physical conditioning, psychological impact,a brilliant recruitment and economical model and emphasis upon technical football. Whatever PL and especially Arsenal is today, a lot of credit goes to this man nick named “Le Professueur”.