It was in the 86th minute I became aware that I was disturbingly close to crying. It wasn’t that my team Arsenal were closing in on a record 13th FA cup championship. It wasn’t that no one in Britain had given them a chance against a superb Chelsea team – and yet here they were striding to a deserved win. It wasn’t that it was a brilliant performance; the best of a difficult season.
It was happiness for Wenger.
The Arsenal manager has given the club its most successful period in its long history. The victory in the FA Cup today makes him the first manager to ever win seven FA Cups. (Before today, he was joint with George Ramsay who had also won six with Aston Villa.) Looked at another way, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal has won more FA Cups than “non-Arsene Arsenal”.
It’s an achievement on a par with the incredible “invincible” season. It may never be surpassed, especially at one club. (Actually, in the modern game managers almost never last more than a couple of seasons at a club making it almost a physical impossibility.)
Wenger’s contribution to Arsenal is beyond dispute yet he has been subject to appalling abuse from many Arsenal fans this season. People hired airplanes to fly the message “Wenger Out” over stadiums. Some fans unfurled banners with the same message whenever Arsenal lost – as if they were attending the games wanting them to underperform. On the internet, it was open season on Wenger. They organised anti-Wenger demonstrations ahead of important games. It amounted to organised bullying of a dignified, decent man. And it clearly hurt him.
He was visibly upset after the last game of the Premier League season, having narrowly failed to deliver the top-four finish that would have offered Champions League football next season. In post-match interviews, he almost pleaded that people recognise his love of Arsenal.
So, Arsenal winning the 2017 FA Cup – the most historic trophy in football – was a powerful narrative of redemption and of vindication. The people who mercilessly jeered him this season should feel shame today.
Wenger: the greatest FA Cup manager in history.