I don’t even really know how to start this “preview”. It’s not going to really talk about Huddersfield Town at all, so, apologies for that. It’s also not going to talk much about Arsenal’s setup/team news/tactics/anything specific for Sunday. As with Wednesday, the result of this game does not matter at all - Arsenal are guaranteed sixth place, and Huddersfield Town are safe from relegation (the worst they can finish is 17th). That means the focus of this game can be where it should be - on it being Arsene Wenger’s last game as Arsenal manager.
I honestly have been struggling for the last couple weeks to put into words how much Arsene Wenger has meant to me as a sports fan. I’ve never met the man, although one time at a game at Highbury I was sitting in the front row of the East Bank and he walked by me about 10 feet away on his way to his seat so I feel like we’re best friends, because that’s how that works, right? Anyway, I’ve never met him, never really even felt like I wanted to, and yet, he’s been a fixture on my TV screens and in my eyeballs for almost half my life. He’s inseparable, to me, from what Arsenal are and have been since the mid 1990’s.
I know that is in no way a unique perspective - if you’re my age and have been watching Arsenal this long, it describes you too. And I’m not sure I can produce the requisite bulleted list of Favorite Arsene Wenger Moments (tm) that seems de rigueur at moments like this. To be honest, if I could, they’d be all the ones you know, anyway.
The things I tend to remember are the ways that his teams made me feel. In the late 1990’s, I used to go to the one sports bar in town that showed soccer, and sometimes had to watch games with the sound from another game on the house sound system because it was on the other TV and that game was being watched by five people instead of the two of us watching Arsenal, so they got the sound.
And on days like that, when you had to go out of your way to sort of half-see an Arsenal game, that’s when you felt Arsene’s love for the club. You felt it when you saw him on the sidelines, you felt it when Emmanuel Petit picked up a tactical but slightly stupid yellow. You felt it when Marc Overmars blazed down the touchline, moving the ball as instinctively as if it were a third foot, before releasing said ball into the path of Dennis Bergkamp.
You felt it in the gangly awesomeness of Nwankwo Kanu, and in the ruthless elegance of Thierry Henry. The point is, you felt it more than you watched it. At their peak, Arsenal were as much a visceral emotion as a soccer team; you knew, when you watched, that they were either going to win or they were going to entertain the living hell out of you before losing in some sort of heroically just-that-short fashion.
Through it all, there was Wenger - non-demonstrative, non-expressive, but fully ingrained in every facet of the club. And while that club was firing on all cylinders? Wow. I’ve said this before, but two of the greatest sports seasons I have ever been witness to were the 2001 Seattle Mariners and the Invincibles season. Both seasons had this...inevitability about them. You just knew that Arsenal were going to win, even if they looked terrible on the day; even a draw just kind of made you shake your head in awe of what was transpiring.
In more recent years, of course, that magic faded rather dramatically, but that’s not the point. The point is, that magic was real, and it was there, and it bound us all together because no other club had what Arsenal had. No other club, Manchester United being the one possible exception, had the stew of strong, charismatic manager, iconic players, and a fan base that would follow said manager anywhere he took them, and enjoy every minute of the ride along the way.
So, even though he will never read this, I want to extend my thanks to Arsene Wenger, for 22 years of the most amazing fandom anybody could have possibly hoped for. Thank you for the Invincibles, the FA Cups, the league titles, and yes, even the Charity/Community Shields. Thank you for 20 straight years of never finishing below fourth place. Thank you for all the Champions Leagues. Thank you for the Emirates.
Thank you for everything. Adieu.
Arsenal v. Huddersfield Town
Kirklees Stadium, Huddersfield
Sunday, May 13, 2018
7AM PT/10AM ET/3PM BT