Arsene Wenger announced his desire to retire from the management of Arsenal FC after 22 years (1996-2018) in charge, the world was awoken at the decision with mixed feelings.
This ‘shocking’ decision did not come when it was expected and it was taken ahead when it was least expected – he had a contract still counting. And today, Sunday, May 13, 2018 Wenger will be in charge of Arsenal FC for the last time at Yorkshire.
In the same vein, the curtain will be drawn on the 2018 English Premier League (EPL) season today with all games kicking off simultaneously at 15:00.
Wenger however, had survived all hurdles and challenges, bullies from fans of the Gunners worldwide who were as well divided specifically over the trophy drought in the club under his guide at the Premiership and at the European levels Champions League and Europa League.
The French man who arrived Arsenal after three years (1984-1987) in Nancy; seven years (1987-1993) in Monaco of France and a year spell at Nagoya Grampus Eight of Japan (1995-1996) in all honesty carved a niche for himself with so much revolution and competition in the British football.
It is therefore the height of emotions that today, Wenger will be sitting in the dugout as Arsenal’s manager for the last time; this is for a match between the Gunners and Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium, Yorkshire. It is a match that will be filled with much thrills and frills and a must win for either side or still, a shared points – Wenger has to leave on a high note.
Yes indeed, leaving on a high note has been the wish of all fans of the Gunners for Wenger from the announcement of his retirement; but that has not been the case – it has been mixed fortunes.
It all started with the ongoing Europa League which the Arsenal players had promised will be used as a “parting gift” for him which was truncated by their semifinals exit in the hands of Atletico Madrid 1-2 goals aggregate.
In the same vein, it was Wenger’s dream of a perfect ending to his ‘love story’ with Arsenal which went the other way round – disappointment after Diego Costa scored the only goal of the night in the second leg at the Estadio Metropolitano.
The result puts paid to Wenger’s last hope of bowing out of the North London giants with silverware at the European level, while also confirming his final match will be in Yorkshire against Huddersfield Town.
Hence, there is apprehension that host Huddersfield who seemed to have survived the drop from all mathematical calculations after an impressive draw at Chelsea in midweek fixtures may want to end the premiership with pride by stopping Arsenal today.
Wenger thus, speaking after the Europa game in emotion-laden tone said: “Look, I am like the team, very sad and very disappointed. Even very frustrated as well, because when you go out of a competition and you had the performances in 180 minutes that we had, it is very difficult to take.
“But as well for the club there is now some time to think about what to do for next season. I think there are some good ingredients in our team and they will bounce back. These players have quality and with the right additions in the summer, the team will compete next year.”
However, after the Atletico failure there were still chances of Wenger rebuilding his image at the Emirates from the last home Premier League match. Wenger thus, guided Arsenal to beat Burnley 5-0 in his final home match in charge on Sunday on May 6 and he told the fans: “I will miss you.”
In Wenger’s honour, the failure to win the title since 2004 has proved costly for Wenger and the Frenchman was presented on the Emirates Stadium pitch with a miniature gold version of the trophy to celebrate the unbeaten Invincibles season 14 years ago.
Wenger and Arsenal have been coy about what directly prompted his departure with a season remaining on his contract according to Associated Press (AP) if his speech after the Burnley defeat is anything to go by.
Hear him: “Thank you for having me for such a long time,” Wenger said in an address to fans. “I know that’s not easy! Above all I am like you: I am an Arsenal fan. That means this is more than just watching football, it’s a way of life. It is caring about the beautiful game, about the values that we cherish.
“I would like to thank everybody at the club who makes this club so special. I would invite you to really push to support the players and the staff who will remain behind me. For me these football players have a special quality, not only on the pitch but off the pitch.”
Thus, going forward the football legend was asked in his final press conference at the Emirates whether he would ever sit with the fans in the North Bank. “I would be happy to sit in the North Bank again,” Wenger responded. “You know what the positive of that is? I can shout at the next manager in the North Bank!”
It brought laughs, on what Wenger still described as “a very sad day”. While he admitted he needed more distance to properly reflect on 22 years, he couldn’t help himself elaborating on his idea of the game.
“My ambition was always to win with style,” Wenger said. “When you’re a big club, I think you have that responsibility, and to give the fans a special experience.”
This was why he is so celebrated, this was why he initially gave the fans so much to celebrate, and this was the idea he was still wedded right up to now… the end. Wenger still believed he would be vindicated, that he could succeed at the club in the old way again.
Wenger’s final day! This is certainly emotional; Wenger thinks, dreams, feels Arsenal in his blood vein and it underscores the real reason on this final day the players cannot afford to send him off without victory at Huddersfield.
Arsenal’s new entrants Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette may not have stayed long enough to enjoy the warmth love of Wenger – a father figure – but they should re-enact their scoring prowess at Huddersfield as a final parting shot for him.
In all of these, the Premier League has some intriguing fixtures today, which will determine who joins Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in the top four ranking – the Champions League Spot.
The battle for the final “Top Four” now rests between Liverpool and Chelsea who are neck-to-neck on the table standing; the Reds are still to seal a Champions League spot after dropping avoidable points on the road and at home.
Liverpool will be hosting Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield and only a win can guarantee their European spot by next season – victory should not be a problem to the Jurgen Klopp boys as Brighton are safe already.
Invariably, chasing Chelsea will be at Newcastle; they need a convincing victory after squandering their home opportunity against Huddersfield during the midweek fixtures, which ended 1-1 at Stamford Bridge. But, will Newcastle fold their hands and watch the Blues take the shine off them?
The final day is always filled with thrills and frill and the Magpies will need to thrill their fans to a resounding finish and have something to celebrate as hosts.
Another fierce and tricky game this Sunday will be between Southampton and champions, Manchester City. Southampton are at home and seemed to have survived after stealing an away game at Swansea – but, Mark Hughes quickly warned his wards that it was not yet time to celebrate.
City are pursuing goal scoring record as well as most points recorded and that they could be dangerous for Southampton whom at best need just a draw and must concede anything less than three goals at defeat – the defence and attack must be at alert.
Southampton must also replicate their away performance against Swansea to finilise their final Premier League spot; otherwise, should Swansea get a maximum of five goals from already relegated Stoke City, then the gods will not be blamed.