Mr. Arsene Wenger: The Untouchable? And The Lost Legacy Of Highbury

Samuel MensahAnalyst IMay 4, 2010

WIGAN, ENGLAND - APRIL 18:  Arsene Wenger the manager of Arsenal looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Arsenal at the DW Stadium on April 18, 2010 in Wigan, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

First thing first what a great manager this man is and nothing should be taken away from his achievements for Arsenal FC. When he arrived we were an average team but we were full of great iconic players who could walk into their national teams.

We had great players, unity, fight, strength, but maybe we did not have the technical ability or the mental discipline. Who can forget the bad boys that were Adams, Merson, and Wright. The seasoned pros like Seaman, Winterburn, Dixon, Parlour, Keown. Just before he came a fallen God joined our ranks, his name was Platt, no sorry his name was Dennis Bergkamp and boy did he rise again.

Highbury was a fortress and teams knew that when they play Arsenal you must be aware that you are going to be in a fight. It was the English way, the Premiership way.

I'll never forget that League and FA Cup double over Sheffield Wednesday where we beat Spurs in the semi. Subsequently the Cup Winners Cup where we beat a great Parma team without our top goal scorer and Alan Smith popped up with a great winner. Never forget it, it is why I am Arsenal, it was what we were all about. It was our identity.

After the Graham scandal we needed someone to take the reigns and it came in the shape of this unknown manager called Arsene Wenger. Straight away he changed the training program and the diet. He brought in players like Viera, Petit, Overmars, and Anelka. All instant successes and Arsenal's football improved by 100 percent.

However without that core of old players Wenger would never have had that platform in which to build from. I hope he knows that. Without that famous offside trap and the desire to scrap for anything he would not have won his first Premier League title in his first full season. Without our history of being great at set pieces defensively and attacking he would not have foundation in which to build from.

We were now a force to be reckoned with as nobody could deal with this new wave of football infecting the Premier League. With his influx of foreign players he opened the door for other teams to attempt to do the same. That mix of English steal and foreign skill was amazing to watch and I cried watching that team it was beautiful.

As seasons went on the English contingent began to pitta out and perhaps the old identity was lost as this new invincible football began to take over. Defence became a reason for attack and it was all we knew how. Still the other teams had not caught up but Man U were still doing their best to stay in contention and so it was, we win you win, a true battle between two great teams.

Arsenal still had that steal though, with Viera, Parlour, Keown, the newly acquired Campbell, the young English talent of Cole and Seaman who later became Lehman. The old Arsenal identity was still present and the new players had been brought up in the school of this and they knew what it was to wear the shirt.

Along with this came the greatest player to wear an Arsenal shirt, Henry. It took him a little while to settle but I remember Keown doing an interview once. He recalled how he used to kick Henry and the new foreign legion in training just to let them know what it was all about. Henry quickly learnt what he had to do and he was a major success.

Accompanied by his buddies Pires, Viera, and Bergkamp they would totally dominate games. They would also fight for anything. The battles between Viera and Keane or Keown and Van Nistelrooy would intrigue me the most.

Back then Arsenal we were not afraid to fight, in fact we had one of the worst disciplinary records, we were a team of fighters and winners. We played truly great football a real Jekyll and Hyde of a team. We were feared and also admired.

However Wenger's policy of not wanting to play players over 30 began to really surface. Some of our players were coveted and offered more money at bigger clubs and Wenger would give in and let them go.

A worrying trend began to surface. We were no longer taking the league cup serious at all instead using it as a platform for youngsters to improve. This was great when we were winning everything else but it would later prove a luxury unafforded by the fans.

Then came a season that no fan of football let alone Arsenal will forget. The Invincibles went a whole season without a loss in the league, an amazing feat that may never be replicated. Highbury was a castle with a big moat around it you were never going to penetrate our defenses we were Gods. All that was to change with only one remaining season left to be played at the great home of Arsenal FC in which we won the FA Cup again.

The English players appeared to me to feel uncomfortable and were also in many examples told they were not good enough to play for us. Suddenly Sol wanted to leave and Wenger was happy to let him go. Next was Cole who was a life long Arsenal player and fan. I don't blame them, as the English slowly became the aliens.

A new era had begun at the Emirates leaving behind Highbury the home of the true original Arsenal fan. For me the Emirates is the home of the glory hunter fan inspired by the Wenger years. I could feel the passion being drained from the fans. The chants had become quiet, only singing when we were winning, the flags, the scarfs had begun to disappear.

A new crop of players were emerging, young, talented but inexperienced. Where Fabregas, Van Persie, and Clichy had been tutored by the likes of Viera, Bergkamp, and Cole this new crop were thrust in, in the knowledge that Wenger "believed" in them.

The fans believed in Wenger so eyebrows were not raised even when Wenger was not replacing the greats that were leaving. However season after season it became apparent that Arsenal were not the force they were and players were leaving left right and centre. Loyalty a word never uttered by an Arsenal player instead always seeking a better move.

Also the other teams were getting better and acquiring money to spend on established players. Had Wenger become a soft touch, lost in his philosophies? The answer has now become apparent.

A Spanish 22-year-old became captain, something that should never have been allowed to happen no matter how good the player is. Messi isn't captain, Rooney isn't captain. In fact Rooney is a great example. An obvious United captain for the future but he is still behind Neville, Ferdinand, Giggs, and Scholes, players Wenger would have thrown into retirement by now.

Who wants to be told by a 22-year-old youngster who has won nothing what he should or should not be doing. When a player is signed be it a mature player would they not find it strange that this youngster has the full reigns. You will not fear or respect him, just ask the likes of Arsharvin.

The players that surround this great footballer are below his standard with Wenger opting for young players who suit his teachings. The problem is Wenger has almost abolished the art of defending and these youngsters look weak and way out of their depth.

Playing against the strength and know how of teams like Chelsea, Man U, and even Stoke. These players are not good enough and don't have the mental beliefs that players of old have.

Wenger needs to remember what kick started his career at Arsenal instead of alienating the old core fans of the club. This season we saw weak teams played even in the FA Cup the greatest domestic cup of all. I find that a disgrace and a disrespect.

What has also become apparent is that Arsene has an excuse for every loss instead of focusing on the things he could have done to combat our weak areas. He has been doing this for five seasons now and it has definitely wore thin with the Arsenal fans who see what is going on.

Teams now know how to beat Arsenal but Wenger insists on not strengthening areas like the middle of the park, the defence and last and definitely least the goalkeeper. To say these inefficiencies have only surfaced would be a bare faced lie and would only cover up what a manger should be seeing in his own team. People and fans alike have seen what is wrong with Arsenal but Wenger has refused to look, listen and learn as if he is above criticism.

In the meantime, the identity of Arsenal has been lost. Why is it that there is not one Englishman or British player in the starting 11 and yet there is space for players like Almunia, Denilson, and sometimes Diaby.

Why do no players talk of their desire to end their careers at Arsenal instead looking to escape elsewhere? Who, when a new player arrives, talks to the recruit about the badge, the history and what it is to play for Arsenal FC other than the fact that you get to play in the Prem and the Champions League if you just turn up?

Recent performances have shown me that the passion is no longer in the badge. Ok so our best team is not out there but no one will moan if you give 100 percent every time and I don't see that. Arsenal have gone backwards since the Invincibles, and why was that allowed to happen?

Wenger has left behind the identity that made us strong. The defence, the offside traps of old, the great set pieces in defence and in attack. The fight, the grit, experience, maturity, and the British steal.

The board love Wenger because he makes them money, but he is not an accountant, he is a manager. He is paid to bring success on the pitch.

For me if no changes are made in the right direction next season I will have to say maybe it's time to move on. What Arsenal needs right now is a Mourinho who will have no holds barred and will weed out the strong from the weak. I cannot see why Wenger won't.

Maybe he is untouchable and maybe the legacy of Highbury is just a memory.