Arsenal's Stay-Away Fans Led to Arsene Wenger's Arsenal Exit

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportApril 20, 2018

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 15:  Manager Arsene Wenger waves at the crowd during the match between the Western Sydney Wanderers and Arsenal FC at ANZ Stadium on July 15, 2017 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)
Mark Evans/Getty Images

Stadium protests, banners and airplane flyovers: Arsenal fans had tried everything they could possibly think of to get Arsene Wenger out of their club.

In the end, it was a simple notion that really made the difference—they stopped turning up to matches.

The stay-away fans sent the sound of warning sirens shrieking through the club's corridors of power far louder than any "Wenger Out" chants had ever done. In the end, they simply could not be ignored.

As news was released on Friday that Wenger will be leaving Arsenal at the end of the season, there was an overwhelming sigh of relief throughout Goonerland.

"I still can't believe it, I'm in shock," said Dean Byles, an Arsenal fan who had stopped attending home games for the first time in 25 years.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 11:  Empty seats are seen during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Watford at Emirates Stadium on March 11, 2018 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

"My whole family are Arsenal mad; my dad, grandad. I have been going since I was six. But I gave up my season ticket three years ago, and I haven't been this season. That's the first time that has happened in all these years. It was sad to get to a stage where I didn't really care anymore.

"It's crazy that after everything that has been tried in protest at Wenger being allowed to stay in charge, it was simply not turning up that really made the difference."

Wenger changed the entire feel of Arsenal Football Club after arriving 22 years ago and led the team to three Premier League titles and seven FA Cup successes.

In recent seasons, the club has been in decline, though, with little sign of hope they could keep up with Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelseaeven their ability to compete with Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool was becoming more difficult.

As a result, the Emirates Stadium has become one of the saddest places in sport.

"I last went to the Emirates in January and it was the same routine as usual," said Peter Wood, a 33-year-old Arsenal season-ticket holder on the North Bank. "I was sat among a row of miserable people waiting to see how things were going to go wrong.

"There has not been any hope or joy in the stands for a long time. It has been toxic, and fans have been going through the motions. It did not used to be like this—in the early 2000s, we would go two goals down and still expect to win.

"It is a shame that Wenger has been turning the fans away, because in the past he was the man who brought people in. But this has been the longest car crash in Arsenal's history.

"On my blog—Le Grove—I've been writing about him leaving for the past 10 years. So to see that he is finally on his way is the best news I have had in, well, about 10 years."

Gary Newman, a 53-year-old fan from Cheltenham, has continued to use his season ticket and also attended 80 per cent of the team's away matches this season, but he is in no doubt the stay-away fans sparked Wenger's exit.

"I think it led directly to this," he told B/R. "Wenger is not stupid, he knew there was a problem when there were so many empty seats, even when he was publicly denying it. It will have hurt him to see that, just as it has hurt me to sit among the empty seats. And trust me, it has hurt being sat there this season.

"I want our home to be a place where we have a great atmosphere and everyone is behind the team, and we just have not been heading in a direction where everyone could believe in the manager.

"I have wanted him to go—but I have never hated him. He has given us some amazing memories."

Now, finally, it is time for change.

Lifelong Gunners fan Simon Jennings is one of the supporters who told B/R he could barely remember a time without Wenger, and many will have never known another Arsenal boss.

But how do we know it will bring about positivity?

"We don't," 31-year-old Arsenal member Byles said. "We don't know what the future will bring, but at least we will have hope now that things will be different, better.

"I'm more excited now than I have been in a long time, and I don't even know what is going to happen. I will be going to matches again though. And I'm going to be putting my name back on the list for a season ticket."

He won't be the only one feeling that way.

"I think a lot of fans are going to start coming back," said Newman, who has been watching Arsenal since the 1960s. "There will be reason to have belief again, and I just hope we can fill the ground with 60,000 people being vocal in support of the team.

"I watched Liverpool vs. Manchester City recently and would love there to come a day when we have a ferocious atmosphere like that. Maybe it will be possible when Wenger is no longer on the touchline."

Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger gestures to the fans during the English Premier League football match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St James' Park in Newcastle Upon Tyne, northeast England, on May 19, 2013.  AFP PHOTO / IAN MACNICOL

REST
IAN MACNICOL/Getty Images

Wenger now has the chance to bow out gracefully; and with fans knowing he is leaving, they are expected to flock back to the Emirates to give him a good send-off.

He may even have time to throw one more trophy into the cabinet as he aims to win the Europa League and show he still has one more moment of magic inside of him.

Almost everyone attached to the club is glad his time at the helm is coming to an end—but it is clear there is still an edge of sentiment.

You never know, some may even shed a tear when he finally waves goodbye.

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