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Arsene Wenger, Arsenal Football Club, and falling out of love

I’m not really sure when I became an Arsenal fan.

I know in 1998 I rooted for The Netherlands because of the legendary Dennis Bergkamp, watching his goal against Argentina in the World Cup on loop from a VHS of the game (I had a damn VHS of a soccer game, what a time).

I know I grew up down the street from a Tottenham Hotspur fan and that I very much disliked both him and his team. I know that Thierry Henry is my favorite player in any sport. I know that as a kid, the soccer of Arsene Wenger’s team was the most enthralling thing I’d ever seen, maybe besides a Michael Jordan fadeaway.

I know that I had gold Pumas like Robert Pires. I know that I’ve loved The Arsenal since I’ve understood the concept of sports fandom, despite the fact that I’ve never been to a game, hell, I’ve never even been to England.

Now, Arsenal’s recent disastrous form has me turning into the worst of Arsenal FanTV. I’ve turned on a man in Arsene Wenger that I regard as an icon, both as a soccer manager and a person. So how the hell did it get to this point?

In 2003-2004, the infamous Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ became the first ever team to finish an English Premier League season unbeaten. Arsene Wenger’s squad tore their opponents apart through a combination of unprecedented attacking fluidity and austere solidity in defense.

The Invincibles are perhaps the greatest team England has ever seen. I mean, the starting 11 is ridiculous: Henry and Bergkamp up top, Pires and Freddie Ljungberg patrolling the wings, Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva in midfield, and a backline of Ashley Cole, Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell, Lauren, and Jens Lehman.

Then came the barren years. Arsenal moved from beloved Highbury to the more cosmopolitan Emirates Stadium in 2006 and Wenger was tasked with keeping the club competitive despite selling off their best players to help finance their stadium move (imagine a country that doesn’t make taxpayers foot the bill for billionaire’s stadiums!).

Thierry Henry left (to Barcelona in 2007), Ashely Cole left (Chelsea, 2006), Patrick Vieira left (Juventus, 2005), Pires left (Villareal, 2006), and Bergkamp retired (2006). Slowly but surely, the Invincibles were gone.

In their place were young, technically-gifted flair players like Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, and Robin Van Persie, and Alexander Hleb, all of whom would eventually leave for big money moves themselves.

During this period, Arsenal were wildly entertaining, maintaining their attacking penchant from the days of Henry and Bergkamp (if not slightly eclipsing it in pure aesthetic terms), but they lacked the grit, PASHUN, or whatever sacred intangible that allows sports teams to be successful.

From 2004-2005 to 2013-2014, Arsenal won zero trophies. They were always incredibly fun to watch (although 4-4 draws aren’t exactly¬†fun), but the lack of silverware during this decade saw the beginning of the ‘Wenger Out’ movement.

Despite the fact that Wenger had led The Arsenal to an unbeaten season, ushered in a new era in a beautiful modern stadium, turned down offers from clubs like Real Madrid, and established Arsenal as a European power, some fans thought his time was coming to an end.

Arsenal fans were put into two sections: the ‘Wenger Out Brigade’ (WOB) and ‘Arsene Knows Brigade’ (AKB). WOBs are characterized by voting Brexit, making some weird comment about Wenger’s Frenchness, and being upset at the small amount of English players at the club.

AKBs respect Arsene far too much to criticize the man that changed Arsenal football club, love how he has represented the club as a man over the years, and are perhaps the more cosmopolitan sect of fans. Arsenal Twitter became class warfare.

In the summer of 2013-2014, fresh off his first trophy in a decade after winning the FA Cup, Arsene Wenger had the option to ride off into the sunset with his head held high, let someone else take up the baton, and lead Arsenal into a new era.

After years of penny-pinching, the club was finally in a good place financially, able to spend money on world class players like Mesut Ozil (summer 2013) and Alexis Sanchez (summer 2014).

Wenger chose to stay on. He won the FA Cup again the next year. Then, last summer, after winning the FA Cup again, Wenger put pen to paper on another 2-year contract extension.

Last summer would have once again been an ideal time to leave, this time because it was clear that Arsenal’s levels had severely dropped after failing to qualify for the Champions League and finishing below Tottenham for the first time in Wenger’s tenure.

Now, Arsenal have stumbled to four straight defeats, including consecutive 3-0 drubbings against league leaders Manchester City. Arsenal have lost more games than any team in the Premier League since the turn of the year.

They have conceded 41 goals, only 2 more than last-placed West Bromwich Albion. Arsenal’s most recent defeat was to Brighton Hove & Albion, you don’t even really need to know anything about English soccer to know that losing to Brighton Hove & Albion is bad.

I didn’t watch the Brighton match. I slept instead. As an American soccer fan, most of my weekends hinge on the decision on whether to sleep or get up to watch soccer, recently I’ve decided against the viewing option more and more.

And yes, I realize it’s hyperbolically self-important to assert that somehow the situation at Arsenal is different now because I don’t want to wake up to watch Arsenal games, but judging from the turnout at the Emirates last Thursday for the Manchester City match, I’m not the only one.

Arsenal are now closer to the relegation zone than 1st-place City, out of the FA Cup, 13 points off their bitter rivals Tottenham, with only the bootleg-ass Europa League to play for.

It’s gotten so bad that captain Laurent Koscielny was reportedly brought to tears in a team meeting.

There are growing rumors that Arsene Wenger will be fired if Arsenal fail to reach the Champions League. Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke’s son Josh has apparently moved to London to closer supervise the goings on at the club.

Various backroom appointments have been made to curtail Wenger’s power at the club. All signs are pointing to the fact that Wenger’s time with Arsenal is coming to an end.

Names like Germany coach Joachim Low, Man City assistant and former Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta, Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim, and Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers (keep the BRODGE out of my club, please) have reportedly been lined up to usurp Wenger.

I suppose this news is exciting. It’s beyond fucking clear to anyone watching that something is deeply wrong at Arsenal. The players look like 11 lost individuals who have never met each other, unable to attack or defend, prone to brutal mistakes, and completely bereft of confidence.

What makes the whole thing worse is that in many ways Arsene Wenger is the man that helped me fall in love with soccer. He changed the way the game was played, how athletes prepared, and is credited with helping banish racism from the game.

Wenger is an incredibly well-spoken and fascinating individual, often comparing soccer to art, and speaking out about progressive politics. He’s a rarity in high level competitive sports.

But, at this point, there’s nothing more to say than utter those all-too-Brexity words: Wenger Out.