Warning, this is not about films, games, or TV shows. But it’s something I want to write about this morning. I have followed Arsenal loyally for as long as I have been a conscious human being. They were the first game I went to; they were the best team in England, and they played the best football. Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Ian Wright, they were my heroes. The man behind it all was Arsene Wenger.
He was the genius who instilled the philosophy that became the thing I identified with. Arsenal played beautiful football on the pitch and conducted themselves with class off the pitch. Only the most heated of rivalries ever changed that, and that was Man Utd under Alex Ferguson. There is a Dennis Bergkamp quote that goes “You don’t support a football club for the trophies, or a player, or history, you support it because you found yourself somewhere there, found a place you belong”.
That quote has been in my head a lot this week, it’s a very philosophical quote, but it’s in line with the values that Arsenal are all about, and Bergkamp was probably the most “Arsenal” player ever. He was unbelievably skilful, ruthless, efficient, classy and never backed down. He’s been my favourite player forever, even above the king, Thierry Henry.
Years passed, a new stadium arrived and as the team changed the values stayed the same. Arsene Wenger was committed to playing in the way that he felt was right, and it was what Arsenal became known for. Even when we were winning nothing, the football was always entertaining. Towards the end of his reign at Arsenal, I agreed it was time for him to go. The football was good at times, but it felt like the club hadn’t progressed from where it was in 2006, and it needed a revamp.
Arsenal restructured, giving the responsibilities Wenger had to 4 people rather than just one. Now, we have Raul Sanlehi and ex-arsenal player Edu managing the club with Unai Emery coaching the team. Emery has tried his best I am sure, but it just hasn’t worked. Arsenal set up for each game to try and nullify the opponent, regardless of the level they are at. He has turned a team that can impose its game on the majority of the league into a team that sinks its level to whatever the opponent is. The club I fell in love with would never do that. Can you imagine Arsenal of 2002 going out to play even the 2019 Wolves team at home and playing 3 deep lying midfielders, no wingers, and trying to counterattack?
It is not the Arsenal way, it isn’t the football I and so many others associate with Arsenal, and we have become a directionless, reactionary team. Emery has to go, and that axe is about to swing, but the next manager is a very important choice. The rumour mill is grinding as always, and there have been a lot of stories linking Jose Mourinho to the job. I have never been more worried about football in my life.
Mourinho is a hugely successful manager, I respect everything he’s done and even how he has done it by playing defensive, pragmatic and efficient football. In many ways, he could fix Arsenal’s weaknesses tactically, and perhaps even make us into title challengers in within a few seasons. He’s a proven winner, and if you’re being completely results based then he is a great choice. If it happens though, I will seriously consider whether I will follow football with any passion at all.
Mourinho is a bitter, spiteful man, who could not hide his jealousy of Arsene Wenger. Wenger has the respect of the entire footballing world because of his philosophy and his approach to life, not just football. Wenger cares deeply for his players, treating them with respect and putting their well-being above the teams when required. Wenger, and because of him, Arsenal, believed Football should be fun, it should be entertaining. It should be an artform.
Mourinho is a win at all costs and win for himself. He has never had a legacy at any club, even at Chelsea he has tarnished the memories of him with the controversial way all his roles end. Mourinho’s prickly style and tendency to clash with players who don’t fall in line with his strict tactics is very much not the Arsenal way. His football is the antithesis of how Arsenal have historically played. People will probably call back to the George Graham, 1-0 to the Arsenal days, but that was before my time. That was before Arsene Wenger changed all English football. That’s another thing Mourinho couldn’t do, for all his success, he never had the impact Arsene Wenger did.
When Arsene Wenger left Arsenal, he left the club and its fans with the message to “Take care of the values of the club” and it was a line that really struck me. Appointing Mourinho and signing up to his brand for the 3-year cycle we have seen end in a ball of fire would break a lot of the values that Wenger was talking about.
I have been struggling to enjoy watching football this year, Emery has Arsenal playing terrible stuff, but the club seems like its heading in the right direction and a new, expansive coach who understands the way Arsenal should be doing things is a vital next appointment. Mourinho is not that, and I don’t know if I will be as interesting in following football for a while if he is the man at the helm of the club I love.
Tomorrow will be about the usual stuff, I promise.