Arsene who? That was the question everybody was asking when Arsenal announced that the Frenchman who had been coaching in Japan would be taking over at the club. No one could have predicted that a relative unknown in the field of football could have such a profound impact on a football club. Certainly, no one could have seen him managing the club for more than 20 years, which is where we stand now.
Wenger took over from Bruce Rioch who was fired after being at the helm for just over a year. His first game was against Blackburn Rovers which the Gunners won 2-0 comfortably. It was, however, the pre-match changes that were going to have a long-term effect on the club. Players at the club were used to chocolate bars but those were banned by the 66-year-old to get the players to perform better. The players protested against it and that was affectionately known as the Mars-Bars revolution. Pasta was another dish that was alien to many footballers those days who were more used to steak and chips. Wenger also got players to take Creatine which was a stamina enhancing drug. All of this went a long way in establishing Arsenal as Bona Fide title challengers.
Halting Manchester United
When Sir Alex Ferguson came to Manchester United he said he wanted to knock Liverpool off their perch and he did exactly that. In his quiet but confident way, Arsene Wenger must have thought the same about the domination that Manchester United had at that time in England. The Red Devils had won four of the five league titles and no team had been able to consistently challenge them. The pressure was ramped up by Sir Alex, who said that Wenger knew nothing about English football. In their first full season under Arsene Wenger Arsenal won the double of the League and the FA Cup, proving to all the doubters that their doubts were unfounded. That achievement was once again repeated in 2001-2002. Arsenal once again won the title in 2003-2004. He has achieved so much respect that his onetime adversary (Sir Alex Ferguson) had this to say about him ahead of him managing his 1000th Arsenal game.
“Over the years we enjoyed some fantastic battles and you could say we had survived together and respected each other’s efforts to play good football. I always enjoy watching Arsene’s sides – Arsenal play the right way.
“Playing against them always presented special challenges that I burned many hours over the years thinking about. He has always been a conscientious member of our trade who makes it his business to help other managers.
“Perhaps the biggest compliment I could give Arsene is that I could never be anything other than competitive with my rival for 17 years,”
Transfer market success and revitalising careers
Arsenal had a solid defence and a brilliant keeper when Arsene Wenger arrived at Highbury, but many of those players were on the wane. Club captain Tony Adams had openly come out with his alcoholism problem and was contemplating retiring at the age of 30. Not only did Arsene Wenger’s revolutionary methods help him overcome his problem it added six more playing years to his career. Wenger also got the best out of some of the other older players like Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon and Martin Keown.
Not many people know that Arsene Wenger has a degree in Economics and maybe it is the reason why he is frugal with money. One of the things that the Strasbourg-born has done is find rough diamonds and then polish them to make finished articles. The Gunners bought Patrick Vieira on the advice of Arsene Wenger. He was sold for a profit but not before he was a great leader and helped the club to multiple trophies. Another famous name and perhaps the best gunner of all time Thierry Henry was bought from Juventus when he was struggling and not many would have even heard of him. The success stories don’t end with these two world cup winning Frenchmen but go on and on. Nicolas Anelka was bought for half a million and was sold for 22.5 million to Real Madrid, Mark Overmars was sold to Barcelona and the club made a 20 million profit on him. With Kolo Toure, Robin van Persie, and Samir Nasri following the same suit, the list is seemingly endless. There have been failures in between but that is just occupational hazard and no manager ever gets all right.
When you are at the top, then people are going to come after you and those who are there will do everything to protect their turf. Arsene Wenger has had his fair share of run-ins with his fellow bosses in the leagues. As mentioned previously his rivalry with Sir Alex Ferguson was well documented. The relationship between the two was quite bitter and one remembers the occasion when Wenger was sent to the stands at Old Trafford and of course almost everyone remembers the infamous Pizza-gate.
Over the last few years another manager who has had plenty to say about Arsene Wenger is current Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho. During his time as the manager of Chelsea, the Portuguese would have plenty to say about Wenger. Sometimes lines have been crossed with Mourinho calling Wenger a voyeur back in 2005. On most of the occasions though the former Monaco manager has kept his cool and behaved in a dignified manner.
Arsenal play a certain style of football and when another team plays in a way to disrupt them then it gets under the skin of Arsene Wenger. Sam Allardyce, when he was managing Bolton Wanderers had his issues and so did Tony Pulis when he was manager of Stoke City. Needless to say, the Gunners did not have all their own way against these teams playing a direct style of football.
Move to the Emirates Stadium
Arsenal moved from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006 in order to be more competitive on the financial side of things. That meant the club could not afford to buy major superstars nor could they afford sky high wages while the debts were being paid. However with Wenger at the helm the concern was navigated seamlessly. Arsenal have always finished in top four under the Frenchman and that has meant revenues from the Champions League have always been there. In addition, massive profits from player sales have been made. In the long term it will benefit the club massively.
In the 2003-2004 season Arsenal did something which no one in his right mind would have predicted, the club went unbeaten in the league for an entire season. Only Preston North End had ever done that before in England. It tells you the enormity of the achievement. Fact that Arsene had previously said that he wanted to do something like this makes it even more remarkable. We can safely say that we are highly unlikely to see something like this ever again. Even with the likes of Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid or even Barcelona.
Failure in Champions league
As mentioned earlier under Wenger’s tutelage Arsenal have always finished in the top four of the league and have always managed to qualify for the group stages of the competition without ever winning it. The closest the Gunners have ever come to lifting the trophy was in 2006 when they lost to Barcelona in the final. However what must hurt more is that in last few years it has been a similar pattern. Finish second in the group and then go out in the round of 16. To some extent it has annoyed the supporters as well and it must surely eat at Wenger too.
The Barren years
Apart from the Champions league it had been a bit of a barren run for Arsenal in the league too, after winning the Leagues thrice in six years, the North London club failed to win any trophy for nine years until they won the FA Cup in 2014 and 2015 respectively. At one point finishing fourth in the league was seen as a trophy. Many supporters feel that Arsene has become a corporate guy and the success off the field matters to him a lot rather than on it.
Moving into his 21st year of management as things stand Arsene Wenger is out of contract in the summer and it is not yet clear whether he will extend his contract with the club or not. There have been murmurings of a job as the manager of England national team but they have been dispelled.
When Arsene Wenger signed on as the Arsenal manager no one could have predicted the sea of change that was about to hit English football. His teams over the years have played fast and attacking football and scored memorable goals. Yes, over the last few years the trophies have dried up and there have been similar failings which haven’t helped. Supporters are divided whether they want him as their manager or not. When you look at what is happening at Old Trafford after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson you would advise the supporters to be careful in what they wish for. The players on the other hand love him; one of the reasons is that because he is loyal to them and believes in them even when others don’t.
What happens in the future will be decided at the board level and will soon become public knowledge. But what has happened over the last 20 years has been nothing short of remarkable. A lot of questions were asked when this geeky looking guy was appointed but all throughout he has dealt with everything thrown at him with dignity and politeness while playing a brand of football that has been jaw dropping. You may say different things about a lot of things but one word that would go remiss if you don’t say it and that is, Congratulations Arsene!