I woke up about two hours ago, sat up, rode that feeling of gathering consciousness as the blood in your body starts to rush downward with the forces of gravity, like a rain stick. Fighting through clouds of sleep, I grabbed the stack of clothes I had set aside the night before and staggered into the bathroom to take a shower. As is my usual, lamentable, habit, I glanced through Twitter quickly to make sure World War 3 hadn't started overnight while I slept. (You laugh, but when the Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami hit, I was asleep. That was a bit of jarring and sobering thing to wake up too.) But there it was: #MerciArsene, trending everywhere on the soccer Twitter.
The rumors that had been flying for weeks were apparently true. Arsene Wenger, who had been manager at Arsenal for 22 years, was retiring at the end of the season.
It's been two hours and I'm still honestly not sure how I feel about all of this. The narrative in the Arsenal commentariat seems to have shifted from, 'man, he's gotta go' to one of relief, gratitude, melancholy and sadness that a legend is heading for the exits. And I feel that's right, really. This is a manager who has given literally decades of his life to the club and however frustrated the fans might have been with him at times, myself included, 22 years at a club combined with all the titles and phenomenal achievements that come with it means that you deserve a send off worthy of the time you've put in there and I think he'll get that. (I just hope the results on the field can give it an added sweetness- seriously, people: we've gotten Peter Cech his 200th clean sheet- can we get some points away from the Emirates to end the season? I'm loathe to even mention the Europa League- really crossing all the digits for good results now though!)
I was 13 when Wenger's tenure with the club started and the more I think about that, the more this feels like one of those 'moments' that you get to cross of a list somewhere. The Cubs had never won the World Series. The Red Sox had never won the World Series. No one had won the Triple Crown since I had been alive. (Also: I had never seen the election of a Pope until I was 22 and there's always been a Queen of England.) Arsenal's only ever had one manager, to me.
My interest in Arsenal has waxed and waned over the years. I feel like I don't have the deep connection with the club that some people have and that's largely because for years, there really wasn't Premier League matches on regular television anywhere in the states. Sure, you could get them on channels like Fox Soccer Plus (I seem to remember watching what I feel like was an Aston Villa v Middlesborough match that might have featured Paul Gascoigne sometime in high school on really grainy, terrible, late 80s quality footage.) But Arsenal sort of became my teams largely because of Dennis Bergkamp doing things like this in the World Cup and the fact that when I was in high school, everybody loved Manchester United because of David Beckham and then when he moved to Real Madrid a good two-thirds of them became Real Madrid fans because of David Beckham and that irked me a little bit.
Arsenal were good at the time. Any Scousers in the extended family wouldn't disown me for liking them. (Unlike, say, a Manchester team... though I've never asked them about liking Everton. I wonder what response that would get.) So, they became my team. And for most of the rest of my high school career, my fandom consisted of checking the league tables on the BBC Sport website to see how they were doing. The arrival of the Premier League on American television was a game changer. My fandom was no longer an abstract thing. I could watch actual games. Live. In my living room. It was incredible and utterly inconceivable to think about when I was in high school.
Since then, it's sort of dawned on me that being an Arsenal fan is, in many ways, like following Iowa football. When they're good, they can be very good indeed. And when they're not they're... not. And usually they have enough alleged talent on the field to make you absolutely incandescent with frustration when it's the latter and not the former at play in front of you.
A change has been needed for awhile now, in my opinion and while it's perhaps not leaving on the highest of high notes as Mr. Wenger might deserve, there's still an opportunity to send him on his way on a high note both on and off the pitch. Hopefully, that happens.
In the meantime, I suppose I should add my voice to the chorus: Merci, Arsene.