Everyone has their own backstory for how they became an Arsenal fan. Here is mine, involving Arsene Wenger and a historic trip to the Emirates.
The man behind the Invincibles is the iconic Arsene Wenger. He is a man I admire a lot. From managing Nagoya Grampus to becoming one of the greatest in world football, there is no doubt that Le Professeur revolutionized modern football. His style of play was breathtaking, his influence unending, and his success, relentless.
Wenger changed English football. He introduced new training methods and diet restrictions, which increased the playing career of many of the Arsenal greats, he afforded his attacking players greater freedom than ever before, and he combined brawn, brains and brilliant skill to assemble a near complete team.
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In addition to all this, he had a terrific ability to take young players and turn them into footballing greats. Instead of splashing egregious money on already well-established players, he focused on potential and trusted his coaching expertise to release it. Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas are all examples of his managing excellence. It was this that got me hooked.
But those were the good old days, the golden era of the club. But after the iconic Invincibles season Arsenal, never regained both their charm and their quality. The players went their own ways, the club moved to a new stadium, and a decline quickly began. Arsenal went on a nine-year trophy drought. They went from title contenders to a top-four side and now a top-six side. They lost heartbreaking finals, most of all the Champions League final which gave birth to the slump.
Among the disappointments there were positives. Watching the rise of a young Fabregas or Robin van Persie terrorise Premier League defences, defeating prime Barcelona, but the negatives outweighed the positives. It seemed that the club sacrificed winning, in favour of their finances and their style.
Nevertheless, throughout this time, the fandom never waned. Those were disappointing times for any fan, naturally, especially as it became evident that the man that made the club into a superpower was the cause of their decline, but being a fan is like riding a rollercoaster. You don’t just get off when hurtling into the depths of despair.
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What added to this fandom was then personal experience. I was lucky enough to watch a match at the Emirates. My excitement got me to the Emirates two hours before the game. I walked around the stadium, soaked in the pre-match buzz, took a photo with the statues of Arsenal greats and talked to the fans that were milling around so early before kick-off. Walking into the Emirates was incredible, it was one of those moments that I’ll remember forever.
I was so awestruck by the magnificence of the Emirates, I just sat on my seat and soaked it all in. Arsenal defeated Burnley 3–1. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice and Alex Iwobi added a late goal in stoppage time. Watching Mesut Ozil’s brilliance, Aubameyang scoring, a frantic Unai Emery, the singing, the celebrating and the joy that 90 minutes brought in my life was a dream come true.
It felt like home. And that’s because, in a sense, it was. As Dennis Bergkamp says, ‘when you start supporting a football club, you don’t support it because of the trophies, or a player, or history, you support it because you found yourself somewhere there; found a place where you belong.’