The house that Arsène built
Arsène Wenger has overseen an Arsenal team playing at the Emirates for the final time. Last Sunday's 5 - 0 thrashing of Burnley marked the occasion appropriately.
It is not though the fitting farewell to Arsène, or even the swashbuckling performance of Arsenal, that I want to discuss. Today I want to talk about the Emirates stadium itself. We must still discuss Wenger then, as he and this stadium are inextricably, and perhaps uniquely, linked.
In the year 2000, Arsenal applied for planning permission to construct a new stadium on the grounds of Ashburton Grove. Upon approval, the project that culminated in the opening of the Emirates stadium in 2006, began. Along the way, Wenger guided the design and construction of the stadium to ensure the new ground would match his vision of all that a modern football arena should be. This included meticulously designing and overseeing the construction of the home dressing room. This is a relationship between manager and stadium probably utterly unique in the modern game.
This is not a criticism, merely an observation, but to an extent the Emirates has always felt as much Arsène's stadium as Arsenal's. Perhaps this has been part of the problem the Emirates undoubtedly has had with capturing the imagination of the Arsenal faithful. That's not to say they have many resentments about Wenger's involvement and influence in the new stadium's design and build. However, I do mean to say that perhaps, for the Emirates to feel more like our own, it had to first feel a little less like his.
Wenger's departure liberates the Emirates to be its own beast now. Whatever the fans, the team or the new manager make of it from here, the ground's lifelong steward has gone. The Emirates is the child of Wenger; he is the father. But no child can truly blossom before it has emerged from its father's shadow.
Wenger's departure marks the close of a long, glorious and transformative chapter in the club's history. The history of the Emirates though is somewhat less storied. However, it now has a hugely significant role approaching. By the start of the 2018/19 season, the Emirates shall be the home of the first Arsenal manager never to have been in charge at Highbury since Phil Kelso. Kelso's tenure came to an end in 1908.
The history of the Emirates so far begins and ends with Arsène Wenger. With the arrival of the Frenchman's replacement, and Wenger taking his rightfully legendary place in the history of the club, the stadium he built can finally also take its place in the wider Arsenal story. With Wenger handing back the keys, the Emirates may now feel like a stadium belonging to the Arsenal that was born in 1886, not just 1996.
Wenger's legacy is deserved and assured. He leaves the club with a magnificent, modern, 60,000 seat stadium. Hopefully now the Emirates will come into its own. The story of Arsène at Arsenal is over. The story of Arsenal at Ashburton Grove has only just begun.