We have never met, but like so many people around the world, I feel as if I know you well. You have been an ever-present part of my life since I was 6 and had no idea football could be so elegant. Time may have diminished you in the eyes of some, but your place in the fabric of Arsenal Football Club is secure. As I have grown into an adult, I have witnessed you become more human yourself, no longer the infallible genius that seemed to have been dropped into our unworthy laps 2 decades ago, but a man with flaws, imperfections, and dreams that aren’t turned instantly into a gilded reality. This process has been difficult for some of the club’s most passionate supporters, but it has also shone a stronger light on some of your best qualities; your dignity and grace in defeat, in spite of your burning desire to win every one, as well as your endurance for criticism that was not yours to bear alone, yet often did.
It is often said that the job of a manager of a football club is singular: to win football matches. But that’s not how you’ve ever seen your role, is it? No, you have taken your job as a personal commitment to each of the players’ lives who have been under your care. In the testosterone and machismo-fueled world of professional sport, you have showed the world that respect and love for each other doesn’t have to be left on the sideline. The way your former charges speak about you says it all, Arsene. Football may have been what first brought you together, but nearly every person within the club who has interacted with you has a cherished memory of you from off the pitch. Whether it is Bob Wilson being reduced to tears on live air simply at the thought of your generosity in the darkest days of his life, or the slightly star-struck manager of a lower league side breathlessly recounting your warmth and candor over a glass of wine in your office, you touch and inspire the people around you.
However, I feel it is my duty to tell you that you haven’t just moved and inspired those within the club, but many of us outside it as well. Even through great distance, that connection goes so far beyond the cheering and the booing on matchdays and into the very lessons of life you possess in no short supply. “For the brave, nothing is impossible” are not just the words of a football coach, but of a teacher and a philosopher as well. Unlike so many in the history of the beautiful game, you have never sacrificed your values solely in the pursuit of victory, even in the face of the barrage of criticism and second guesses you know will be waiting for you on the other side of that door. This has helped you not only mould world class footballers but world-class human beings as well.
Given that you are, at your very core, a football man, I would be remiss to not mention the football itself. Good Lord, that football! The pace, the creativity, the moments of immortal brilliance that still play in the minds of supporters today. Football was a simple game in my mind before you came along and did exactly what you intended to do: you turned it into high art. Your belief that a big club like Arsenal must not just win matches, but do so by playing quality, entertaining football may have seemed absurd in the buttoned-down, pragmatism of the Premier League, but it gave the club an identity that still stays with it today. England owes much of its top league’s global popularity to your insistence that the game must come out of the dark ages in this country. Elements of your playing style, your training methods, and your total wellness focus can be seen in nearly every Premier League side these days, which is perhaps the ultimate testament to your influence on the game itself in this country.
Finally Arsene, I must end my ramblings on a personal note. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything you have done, both for me and the club we both love so much. You took the job when I was a boy and you shall leave it when I am an adult. I spent many of my formative years watching, listening and reading your words. You have taught me so much without ever realising you were speaking to me. Thank you for giving me so much happiness on the pitch and for teaching all of us about the meaning of respect and the absolute power of the human spirit in spite of all odds. I will remember you as the greatest Arsenal manager of all time and as a personal hero. Arsene Wenger and Arsenal will never fully be two separate entities again, there is too much of each of you in the other.
Arsene, you always said that you wanted to leave the club in a better position than when you arrived. Look around mate, you’ve done it.