When Arsenal announced the appointment of their new manager in September of 1996, it was met with very little enthusiasm. Arsene who?
A scarcely-known Frenchman poached from Japanese side Nagoya Grampus Eight? Hardly inspiring.
But little did fans of English football quite realise what was in store when Arsene Wenger walked through the Arsenal doors 25 years ago.
From ‘In Arsene We Trust’ to #WengerOut, love him or loathe him, there is no denying the impact the Le Proffeseur had on the English game.
Be it scouting, players’ training, diet regimens or his thirst for attractive attacking football, Wenger transformed the sport and was a pioneer for foreign managers, paving the way for the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp today.
A quarter of a century on from his appointment, we take a trip down memory lane to re-live the biggest highs and lows of the Frenchman’s eventful 22-year tenure with the Gunners. It was some ride…
The 1998 Double
Trophies, eh? Like London buses: you wait ages for one then two come along at once. Only for Wenger, the wait wasn’t long at all.
In fact, the Frenchman achieved his first domestic double in only his first full season at the Arsenal helm and, in doing so, became the first foreign manager to win a Premier League and FA Cup double. Firsts galore.
With the likes of Overmars, Petit and Vieira in their ranks, the Gunners edged out Manchester United in the league before running out 2-0 winners against Newcastle in the cup final.
Wenger had arrived and his revolution was only just getting started.
The 2002 Double
With Wenger’s footballing revolution in full swing and his Arsenal side’s attacking football in full flow, Wenger added further acclaim as he secured yet another league and cup double in 2002.
A side boasting the flamboyant French pairing of Robert Pires and Thierry Henry, the Gunners recovered from a stuttering start to storm their way to yet more silverware.
Incredibly, Arsenal didn’t lose any of their last 21 games that season, dropping a mere six points in the process, as they beat Manchester United to the title.
And if that wasn’t enough, Wenger clinched this second Premier League title in style as Sylvain Wiltord famously netted the game’s only goal to secure a 1-0 win at Old Trafford. What could be sweeter than dethroning the defending champions on their own patch?
What were Arsene Wenger's best and worst moments at Arsenal? Let us know what you think in the comments section
The 2004 Invincibles
When you think of Wenger’s Arsenal, you can’t help but think of the Invincibles.
Perhaps Wenger’s most celebrated achievement, a third league title arrived in 2004 in remarkable fashion: 38 league games without defeat. Will we ever see the like again?
The record books were re-written as the Frenchman’s team became only the second in English football history, after Preston North End 115 years previous, to remain undefeated for a whole domestic league season.
Not only that, but the Gunners later eclipsed Nottingham Forest’s record of 42 league matches unbeaten and extended it by seven to 49 games before the epic run ended in dramatic defeat in October 2004. How? I hear you ask. More on that later…
The 2014 FA Cup
After prioritising finances during his second decade at the club and with the rest of English football catching on to the visionary’s footballing philosophy, a nine-year Arsenal trophy drought was finally ended with an FA Cup triumph in 2014. But it was by no means a gimme.
After falling 2-0 down to Hull City within the opening eight minutes, it appeared as though Arsenal’s lengthy wait for a trophy would linger on and Wenger’s days were numbered.
However, strikes from Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny clawed the Gunners back level, before an extra-time winner from Aaron Ramsey brought back the trophy-winning sensations of old.
This moment was a pivotal one for Wenger. With pressure mounting, he took a stubborn stand, resisting pleas to call it a day and go out on a high.
Seven FA Cup Wins
Not exactly a moment, but a series of moments. We couldn’t possibly discuss the highs of Wenger’s Arsenal tenure without rightly devoting time to his love affair with the FA Cup.
The aforementioned successes in 1998 and 2002, were added to in 2003, as a lone Pires strike was enough to see off Southampton, and in 2005, when Wenger’s men scraped past Manchester United on penalties following a goalless stalemate.
A further two triumphs in 2015 and 2017, after the long-awaited return of Arsenal silverware in 2014, perhaps justified the Frenchman’s decision to stay on as manager.
Arsene’s seven FA Cup successes means he holds the record for the most wins in the competition’s illustrious history.
Manchester United’s Treble
Okay, so United’s achievement wasn’t solely down to Wenger, but it could have been oh so different.
If only the Gunners found a way to punish the 10-men of Manchester United. If only Dennis Bergkamp’s late penalty wasn’t saved by Peter Schemeichel. If only someone (anyone?) stopped Ryan Giggs in his tracks when he scored THAT solo goal in extra-time of the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay. Perhaps Arsenal would have raised the famous cup aloft once more and ended United’s treble dreams.
As for the league that season, the Gunners were top with two games to play but an unexpected defeat at the hands of Leeds United opened the door for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to create history as they pipped Wenger’s men to the title by a solitary point. If only…
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The End of the Invincibles
A chance to go 50 games unbeaten. Manchester United versus Arsenal. Ferguson vs Wenger. With the unbeaten streak standing at 49 games, everything was set for a Premier League classic. And it didn’t disappoint.
Ruud van Nistelrooy dispatched a contentious penalty after Sol Campbell was alleged to have fouled Wayne Rooney with just over 15 minutes remaining, before the latter added a second to seal the win and bring Arsenal’s history-makers to an abrupt stop.
Tempers boiled over in the tunnel afterwards as managers and players became involved in an infamous barney which resulted in food being launched at United boss Ferguson, who, following his retirement, revealed that he considered this match a watershed moment for Wenger, affecting his management and placing straining on the pair’s relationship.
“The Battle of the Buffet” (or “Pizzagate”, depending on your preference) was born.
The 2006 Champions League Final
Another game which could have been oh so different for the history of Arsenal Football Club and the legacy of Arsene Wenger.
There is no doubt it is a highly-commendable achievement to make a Champions League Final and there can be no disgrace in losing to a side containing Ronaldinho, Iniesta and Eto’o to name but a few, but the manner of the loss will forever haunt Wenger.
Jens Lehmann recklessly got himself sent off to stack the odds against his Gunners teammates, before a Campbell header gave Wenger’s men a shock lead.
Arsenal held out until the 76th minute, before two quickfire strikes from Eto’o and Juliano Belletti left Wenger once again pondering that old familiar question: what if?
The 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford
Yep, Ferguson’s United again. Perhaps the most humiliating moment of the Wenger era.
The injury-ravaged Gunners were obliterated as United hit eight (that’s right, EIGHT) when the two sides met at Old Trafford in the league in August of 2011.
For many Arsenal fans, this result was the moment they turned on Wenger as it proved a stark reminder of just how far from the glory days they had now fallen.
To add to the humiliation, in his post-match interview, even Ferguson admitted that he wanted his side to stop scoring. Ouch.
The Bayern Munich battering in 2017
Back-to-back 5-1 hammerings at the hands of German giants Bayern Munich in the Champions League Round of 16 meant the Gunners crashed out of Europe by a 10-2 aggregate scoreline in another particularly poignant moment for Wenger.
Mass protests engulfed the Emirates ahead of the second leg mauling as for many fans, enough was enough.
And even though Wenger was still given a contract extension, the writing was on the wall. The end was nigh.
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