Thanks Arsene for ten years of Wenger-football, and for the promise of more to come
Ten years of Wenger-football at Arsenal FC has meant watching the ultimate formula of consistent winning football while playing the beautiful game beautifully. This is Arsene Wenger's legacy to football, and there is no depth to the gratitude I have for him in fulfilling his vision at my club.
Ten years down the line and it is right to say that Wenger is now on his third-generation team. And I am excited by the prospect of this current line-up emulating the style and success of football of the previous two.
Just to recap, the first-generation team won the double in Wenger's first full season at the club and included the likes of Seaman, Adams, Bould, Keown, Winterburn, Dixon, Petit, a young Vieira, Overmars, Parlour, Wright, Bergkamp, and Anelka.
The second-generation team performed the unprecedented achievement of going a whole season unbeaten on their way to winning the Premiership, plus set a new English record of 49 unbeaten league matches, and included the likes of Lehmann, Lauren, Ashley Cole, Toure, Campbell, Keown, Captain Vieira, Edu, Gilberto, Parlour, Pires, Ljungberg, Reyes, Legend Bergkamp, and the irrepressible Thierry Henry.
In between the transition of the first and second generation teams there was the Premiership and FA Cup double of 2001-2002 season. In all the first and second-generation line-ups won three Premiership titles and did not have a final position below second place.
Wenger's third-generation line-up has been over a year in the making and game by game I see increased belief within the team of their sheer potential. This young line-up reached the Champions League final before their time, and I am confident they have what it takes to repeat that feat in the years ahead.
I love the addition of the experienced and competitive William Gallas into our young defence that features three fantastic young centre-backs in Kolo Toure, Phillipe Senderos and Johan Djourou. For me, Emmanuel Eboue is our Cafu in the making, while Gael Clichy is virtually a clone for Ashley Cole. And the super-confident Jens Lehmann is truly a world class goal-keeper to have as the last line of defence.
Yet what really excites me is our midfield. Fabregas goes from strength to strength and is the vital rhythm-setter for this team. His composure on the ball is amazing and sets the right tone of confidence in possession for the team. He has what it takes to be the best playmaking midfielder in the world. Czech international captain, Tomas Rosicky, is a fantastic acquisistion. Not only is his creativity and attacking drive outstanding, but in his general demeanour on the pitch I see a fighter and a winner. And Alex Hleb on the right is a player I have a lot of time for: blending excellent attacking dribbling ability with a determination to tackle back.
For me the three together are outstanding technical and creative midfielders in the Wenger vision of total footballers and I am really excited by the prospect of seeing this combination grow together in the same midfield. A glimpse of what they can achieve together was seen at Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago where this trio - along with fighting Freddie Ljungberg - took the game to Man Utd in one of the most impressive Arsenal performances of the entire Wenger era. Finally, in the midfield context, Gilberto is the defensive wall that achieves vital balance for our midfield and this - plus his sportsmanlike demeanour - is why I so admire his contribution to the club.
The forward position is led by record goalscorer and arguably the world's best, Captain Henry. Behind him is a 23 year old who is now ready to burst into goals with a grooved striking technique that is as close to technical perfection as you would wish to see: Robin van Persie (illustrated perfectly by THAT goal at Charlton yesterday!). Emmanuel Adebayor showed at Man Utd that with increased self-confidence he has a lot to offer as a Kanu-like player who, unlike Kanu, has big pace. On-loan Julio Baptista has the power and pedigree to make an impression. And waiting in the wings is the young Danish international striker making waves on-loan at Birmingham City, Niclas Bendtner, plus of course the gem of a talent in 17 year old Theo Walcott.
The Wenger legacy of the last ten years has been extraordinary for AFC and a privilege for me as a Gunner to watch and admire. And I believe the potential of this third-generation squad to emulate the previous two in achieving the ultimate combination of consistent winning football with total football is there. With Arsene Wenger in charge, who would bet against it?