At his pregame news conferences, the first couple of questions to Arsene Wenger are usually about his team news. Who is injured, who is returning from an absence, who might be rested ahead of the next game: the usual fare. On Thursday lunchtime, the Gunners boss sat down for what was his last-ever news briefing, although he will obviously carry out mandatory postgame duties after the fixture against Huddersfield on Sunday.
This time, there were no questions about injuries or his potential line-up; instead, we got 25 minutes of Wenger talking about his impending departure, his future and, of course, his life and time as manager of the club. It has been a storied career, his legacy is evident in almost every aspect of the club, and for many fans and observers, it’s impossible to separate him from the job.
Even the man himself provided an interesting little slip of the tongue as an illustration while talking about how, since he began in management, he had learned to control the emotional side of his character in order to survive in the job.
“Have we even seen the real Arsene Wenger?” asked one journalist.
“Yes,” he replied, “you have seen the real Arsenal Wenger …”
When he arrived in 1996, it was “Arsene Who?” and 22 years later, he departs with nobody in any doubt as to who is he as a man and a manager.
Wenger is the man who helped created the best, most ruthless and most exhilarating rivalry in Premier League history as this “Frenchman who knows nothing about English football” went head-to-head with Alex Ferguson and Manchester United and it was amazing for both sides and neutrals alike.
He’s the man who brought a 19-year-old Patrick Vieira from AC Milan and unleashed him on English football. He’s the man who discovered Nicolas Anelka (Nicolas Who?), sold him to Real Madrid for £22 million and used that money to build a training ground and bought another young Frenchman who was struggling to make his mark in Italy.
He’s the man who convinced Thierry Henry he could play as a striker when the France international didn’t believe he could do the job. He’s the man who kept faith with Henry when it took him nine games to score his first goal, and he’s the man who let him go eight years, 228 goals and innumerable wonderful memories later.
He’s the man who guided his Arsenal team to two Doubles. He’s the man who won the title at Old Trafford and at White Hart Lane, even though Spurs players thought the 2-2 draw prevented that from happening, only to discover that somebody got their maths wrong.
He’s the man who said that it would be possible for his team go through a season without losing a game; everybody laughed and called him “Comical Wenger” and the next season, Arsenal were unbeaten from the first game of the season until the last, and he walked around Highbury holding a “Comical Wenger” T-shirt.
He’s the man who didn’t know how to coach defence but who somehow set a Champions League record for the amount of time without conceding a goal with a back four of Emmanuel Eboue, Kolo Toure, Philippe Senderos and Mathieu Flamini.
He’s the man who kept Arsenal in the top four while big money poured into other clubs, and he did it on a relative shoestring budget with players you look at in hindsight and wonder how on earth he pulled it off.
He’s the man who, despite working as hard as he could, became diminished as the game changed. He’s the man whose competitive advantages — knowledge of the foreign transfer market, early fitness and conditioning gains, etc. — were whittled away.
He’s the man who should have achieved more with some of his teams. He’s the man whom everyone loved but who some came to hate. He’s the man who most Arsenal fans retained respect and admiration for even when they came to the conclusion that the time for change had come.
He’s the man who, even during the frustrating final years, managed to set another record unique to him by becoming the most successful FA Cup manager of all time with seven wins to his name.
He’s the man who has done hundreds of things that won’t fit into this piece. He’s the man whose legacy will live on. He’s the man who, after Sunday’s game, will clear his desk and move on to pastures new.
He’s the man whose name sounds like Arsenal, and now Arsenal are the richer for his tenure.
Au revoir, Arsene.
Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC’s Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.