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Invincible: Arsène Wenger the movie, a review Our ACE arrives Arsène Charles Ernest Wenger = ACE Wenger and he was by far the greatest Arsenal manager in my lifetime, definitely our ace. This documentary is, in many ways, a sad reflection of the end of his days at his beloved Arsenal. Yes, it celebrates his life, his early days, the glory years and above all the invincible season, but perhaps its greatest feat is showing the ordinary man behind the genius, the guy out jogging, being put under stupid interrogation by journalists (?) at the start of his sojourn, and the heartbreak evident in his face as he got pushed out of Arsenal. His top achievement as a player One sure thing I can say about Arsène, is he never boasted about himself, he had a humble upbringing in a small town in France, it was just after the war and everything was scarce. And if he had a humble background, it was even more so in football. He was well down the ladder and it took time to climb himself upwards. Implicit in this film is that he realized he would never be a master footballer so he dedicated himself to the process of becoming a virtuoso coach and manager in his twenties. Slowly his talent was recognized. His ability to work with people is unsurpassed, it is hard to think of anyone who has a bad word to say about him. In contrast to his two biggest rivals, Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, who have plenty of players with nothing but bitterness towards them. Jaap Stam, Luke Shaw, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Gordon Strachan, and Paul Pogba spring to mind but there are plenty more. Love wins out at the end? His greatest achievement, to my mind, documented in this film, is when he came to Arsenal in 1996.He really got an unprecedented amount of abuse and piss-taking. Our own Ian Wright said “who?” when asked about him. He was accused without any basis, that he had a private life scandal. Players thought this was never a football man because he didn’t look the part. No foreign manager had achieved much in England and the English football establishment and media perpetuated this myth. Eh, no, Arsène proved them wrong in spectacular fashion by winning the double in his first full season by playing beautiful football. The Double? Easy! The film has its focus on Arsène Wenger and particularly the invincible year. Us Arsenal fans know all the story and there is nothing much new in this movie. For me, though, the surprising thing is how ordinary Wenger was portrayed in many ways and there is a recurring theme of sadness as a great man is laid low, partly, at least, by idiot fans and an aggressive media. A present from our ACE -London Colney He is regularly shown watching matches from his past in a deserted and bleak warehouse on a very large screen. He is alone, as if he has no friends. It really does look heartbreaking. For me it is strange, as I feel such an intelligent man as Wenger must have known it is not a good depiction as a majority of people still believed in him. I knew at the time we would struggle to replace him. Football had moved on and money was king so a new manager had to operate within Arsenal’s financial constraints and equal Arsène’s achievements. There are few such geniuses out there. Maybe we have found one now in Arteta but it still remains to be seen. Another present from our ACE It shows his final days, the protests by the numptys, the constant barrage by the media, and you can see the confusion and hurt in his face as he tries to comprehend how people cannot see that they are asking the impossible – build a new stadium that befits a top team but costs a fortune, and win major trophies with a very constrained budget just when the super rich are clambering into football and spending whatever they like. 100 million was what it cost to run a top team not so long before for a year, and now it might get you a dud player. Time for a major statue outside The matches leading up to the Invincible year are delineated, the inexorable march towards the title, the draws that knocked us back, the wins that pushed us forward. It was an extraordinary achievement, belatedly recognised by Alex Ferguson in this film as he was dismissive of it at the time, saying it wasn’t a record points total and there were 12 draws. However, this video shows a Ferguson who is a big fan of Arsène. Obviously he had a lot more respect for him at the time than he let on but I do feel that the reality was that there was a great mutual dislike. The strange thing, alluded to here, is that Manchester United offered Arsène the role of manager and he turned it down. Wenger doesn’t say when that happened but it is generally believed to be when Ferguson first said he would retire but then changed his mind. So is it worth watching? I would say so for the non Arsenal fan as it gives glimpses into the man who made Arsenal, with its top class grounds, superb training facilities and high standards. It also shows that success breeds discontent, win and you are expected to keep on winning, fans get cranky, abusive and show no respect or understanding for how greatness is achieved. Fans from say West Ham or Bournemouth would love to have the problems Arsenal fans have. Our ACE had a sense of humour Foe Arsenal fans it gives us insight into how a small section of fans were allowed to show their lack of class, how a great man was hounded from his lifetime’s work instead of being allowed to walk away with his head held high when he felt he could contribute better with a different role. He should be like Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish, at every match and applauded. But the overriding feeling instead is that we hurt deeply the man who gave us everything, who took on the Manchester giant who had unlimited cash and gave them a bloody nose. 2 doubles and an Invincible year, 49 matches unbeaten, a record number of FA cups, and yet he is hounded out. He should never had had to experience that and maybe that is why he agreed to be portrayed as an ordinary man watching matches alone in a dark and bleak warehouse. His last day -we will never see his like again Arsène, you were the greatest in my time, you brought in incredible players and you nurtured many others. The football was exciting, the chasing down of teams, the quest for cups, the huge teams coming to Highbury and the Emirates, the respect garnered from every quarter of football and above all else, your creation, almost singlehandedly, of the magnificent Emirates Stadium which has enabled Arsenal to stay in touch with the big boys. That is the one aspect that I am truly grateful for, that Arsenal are among the big boys, and we achieved it with a man whose integrity is unsurpassed in football. Our heads are high in the air with the man who offered Sheffield United a replay as he called foul on himself. Nobody in football wants to do that but he did. A giant among giants and he is ours. Our ACE. Merci beaucoup Monsieur Wenger et merci pour les merveilleux sentiments que vous m'avez donnés.
2005-2006 We won trophies at this stadium The end of Highbury. Highbury was a great ground. I loved it and I cannot say I get the same buzz from the Emirates. To go on to the terrace and mingle with the real fans, listen to the banter, get shoved around whenever something exciting happened, sometimes struggling to see what happened when being shoved, all added to the fizz in my belly as I watched my team becoming close to being a great one in the late 80’s under George Graham. We were finally able to go toe to toe with the giants of English football, Liverpool and I was able to go to Highbury to watch them climb that mountain. People accused it of being the Highbury Library but it never seemed that way to me, there was always a noise, lots of singing, and sometimes some very witty comments. And, something that might surprise people who only watch on tv is the negativity of a lot of the crowd. Cries similar to “The team is fucking useless and always have been”, “the manager is an idiot” and many others came out of the lips of fans regularly from the terrace. That has died out dramatically since we changed over to the stands. There is still a little banter now but nowhere near the same. Football is worse for that, although I have to say I do like being able to sit and have a bit of comfort watching Arsenal, I miss the connectness of the terraces. But not at this one And I miss Highbury. The financial argument was inescapable. Roman Abramovich had altered the landscape of football as he transformed Chelsea into a contender for the best team in Europe. A seemingly bottomless supply of money and an aggressive attitude towards managers not achieving it meant that even Mourinho got sacked after toppling the 2 giants of English football, Manchester United and Arsenal, both with far greater resources at the time in terms of fans worldwide and ability to coin money from that fanbase. The big teams of Europe, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, the Italian giants, and several within England had much bigger grounds. And so the plan that had started several years before had come to fruition and Arsenal would spend their last year at the hallowed and exquisite turf of Highbury. Arsene Wenger and David Dein, along with the board, set it all in place. A new ground, close beside Highbury so fans are not discommoded, with around 60,000 fans, a huge increase on what was there before, and a far greater amount of corporate boxes to cater for the sexy image football had garnered for itself. Arsenal needed that money to be able to take on the big boys. The banks insisted on Arsene Wenger The banks got that call right Perhaps not so well known is that the banks insisted that Arsene Wenger had to remain at the helm to guarantee the loans.This was certainly prescient as, although attendances have not been hit too badly since Wenger moved on, they have certainly taken a hit now that we are no longer challenging for honours. The shiny new stadium did come at a price on the pitch though. Although lots of new players came that year, none had the impact of Bergkamp (believed to have been a Wenger choice), Vieira, Henry, Petit, Overmars, Campbell, Pires, Llungberg and others that became legends. Adebayer, Walcott, Diaby, Song, and Hleb did come on board and made various types of impressions but none are contenders for greatest player in their position for Arsenal as those previous players I mentioned are. It looked like Wenger could get us good but not great players now. Our greatest midfielder gone This guy frightened players And so we lost one of our greatest this season. Patrick Vieira finally left for Juventus after grumbling for a few seasons about a move. Cesc Fabregas came through from the academy finally as first choice but he was no like for like replacement. He did not have the aggression or the physique of Vieira but he did bring a superb skillset to the team so that Vieira’s loss was not so keenly felt. Fabregas almost bridged the gap Lots of teams sent us home crying Still, on the pitch, we weren’t so good, 11 defeats in the league meant we finished a distant fourth to Chelsea. We fielded understrength teams in the FA cup and the League cup because Wenger concentrated all efforts on winning the Champions league which meant we went out to Bolton in the 4th round of the FA cup and Wigan in the semi-final of the League cup. We played lower teams in the league cup and got away with it until the semi’s where Wigan drew 2-2 over 2 legs but went through on the away goals rule as they scored a goal at Highbury in extra time of the second leg. We were beaten at Highbury by Chelsea and West Ham in the league, our only 2 defeats there that season although Wigan got a sort of a victory in the League cup. Highbury was always a difficult place to come to and the Emirates has never quite managed to achieve that. At least I got to feel it throughout my whole body And so we got our send off. Every match had a theme like players day, European night, 49-er’s day, Wenger day etc. and there was a party type atmosphere all season. Highbury was no more and I could never recreate my days of younger as we moved into our new giant stadium with its dizzying heights. Impressive, yes, and lots of interesting parts around it but without that buzz which so many of you will never experience. I am so glad that I got to feel it all through my body as I looked around at all the fans, strangers yet family, buzzing and fizzing and erupting as the goals went in. Next week I will talk about our Champions league campaign that season. It will be the final, for now, of this series My life as a gooner. The 49 has significance. The Champions league is the title I have always wanted and we came so close. List of themed matchdays at Highbury Matchday Date Players Day 14 August 2005 Goal Celebrations Day 24 August 2005 European Night 14 September 2005 2 November 2005 Doubles Day 19 September 2005 Internationals Day 2 October 2005 Wenger Day 22 October 2005 Memorial Day 5 November 2005 49-ers Day 26 November 2005 League Cup Night 29 November 2005 24 January 2006 Boxers v Jockeys Day 7 December 2005 Great Saves Day 18 December 2005 Hat-trick Heroes Day 28 December 2005 Back Four Day 3 January 2006 FA Cup Day 7 January 2006 1913 Day 14 January 2006 London Derbies Day 1 February 2006 Home Grown Players Day 11 February 2006 Managers Day 8 March 2006 Captains Day 12 March 2006 Junior Gunners Day 18 March 2006 Decades Day 28 March 2006 David Rocastle Day 1 April 2006 Dennis Bergkamp Day 15 April 2006 Records Day 19 April 2006 Kits Day 22 April 2006 Goals Day 7 May 2006