I witnessed a brilliant mind take over and transform a team into an international powerhouse. I followed as the old guard champions aged out of the game, as guys like Tony Adams, Ian Wright, Lee Dixon, David Seaman, Nigel Winterburn and Martin Keown gave way to a new Arsenal. An international Arsenal.
In came Viera, Henry, Pires, Ljungberg, Overmars, Petit, Anelka. Trophies followed. Historic moments were created. And the goals...my god the goals. It was as it was supposed to be. And with the success, Wenger began to invest in young, unproven players...and he did it well. The list is too long to go through, and that's not what this is really about at its core. It's about how Wenger has responded when it didn't work out perfectly.
Far too many better writers than I have bemoaned the lack of experience in the team in the last few years, the adherence to a transfer policy that ignored the failings of the last few years in the silverware acquisition department. And to be fair, there's something to be said about faith, faith in oneself, faith in your players and teammates, and faith in your system.
But the line between faith and stubbornness is thin. And today did it for me. A single substitution was too much for me to swallow.
Today, we learned something we all already knew (yay, oxymorons!) - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is one talented kid. That he has only been used in 8 games in all competitions this season was already grating. Then today, after a performance that surely cemented his place in the starting eleven with more frequency, he came off to the cacophony of as many upset fans as the Emirates can hold for the worst Gunner of the season, the Meerkat.
Yes, Arsene said that Ox came off due to cramping. And that's fair. Whether or not you believe him, nobody has any proof otherwise and that kind of speculation is better left for the Piers Morgans of the world. But that moment, the moment when Wenger made the kind of decision that rarely happens in sport when a coach does something that every other human on Earth is baffled by has summed up his lack of genius in recent years.
Ironically, it was the earlier crushing defeat to United that forced Arsene to bolster the squad with (all in the course of 24 hours) Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos and Yossi Benayoun. The inability (or unwillingness) to make similar moves over the course of the transfer window instead of being pushed off a cliff to improve the squad is mind-boggling. And should be unnacceptable.
For many coaches, they would have been fired before earning the chance to make those panic purchases. And yes, I'm biased, but I believe Arsene earned the chance to do so. We all know he's not the average manager. But it's not just transfers.
His continued reliance on his own self-importance to justify his mistakes is no longer "Arsene being Arsene." It's no longer enjoyable. The answers he gave in the post-match press conference are insulting.
Arshavin is captain of the Russia national team.
Wow! A captain of a national team! That makes sense. Hey, why don't we sign Rashad Sadygov? He's captain of the Azerbaijan national team.
You have an 18-year-old kid making his first Premier League start and a player who's captain of his country and they are querying the substitution? Let's be serious.
Okay, let's be serious. That 18-year-old kid started over the captain of his country, and for obvious reason. He's better at playing soccer. That has to be the most nonsensical thing Wenger's ever said.
I've been a manager for 30 years and have made 50,000 substitutions. I do not have to justify every decision I make to [the press].
No, you don't. But you have to justify every decision to the board. And you should be able to justify every decision to the fans, let alone the press. The most worrisome reaction? When your team captain who is also the best player on your team (which has to be noted - call it the Gallas effect) wonders WTF you're doing.
I'm not saying Wenger should be fired. I'm saying that I'm tired of him being forced to respond properly. I'm tired of the "I don't have to"s and the "well you see"s. I'm tired of the "getting players back from injury is like a signing" theory. And good god, I'm tired of Arshavin. I'm tired of having to justify decisions and inaction that would get any other manager in the EPL (save for SAF) fired. I'm tired of waiting for Arsene Wenger to find vindication on the pitch.
And I'm tired of waiting until next year, hoping for that vindication to come.
At this point, I can't feel that bad about questioning if it ever will when Arsene's faith in himself looks more foolish than anything.