Arsene Wenger completed 900 games in charge at Arsenal when his side met Norwich City last weekend. Although a win would have served as a fitting result for the occasion, Tottenham’s slip up ensured that no significant damage was done. Arsenal remained 3rd in the table going into the last round of league matches, knowing a win will ensure safe passage to Champions League next season.
Arsene Wenger took charge of Arsenal on September 30,1996 after the departure of Bruce Rioch. In his first season in charge, he led his side to a third place finish in the league, missing out on Champions League qualification just narrowly to Newcastle United. He also brought, then a relatively unknown face, Patrick Vieira to the club, who went on to become one of their top players in the years to come.
The following year, Wenger led the club to a famous historic domestic double by winning the league as well as the FA Cup; only the second time in the club’s history. The team, written off by critics earlier in the season, overturned a 12 point gap between them and leaders Manchester United to win the league title with two games to spare. The pillar of this amazing feat was Wenger’s invincible all English defensive quartet of Adams, Bould, Winterburn and Dixon. The midfield was largely dominated by Wenger’s new signings, Emmanuel Petit (who partnered Vieira), dutch winger Marc Overmars and teenage striker Nicolas Anelka, bought for a paltry £500k and sold to Madrid for around £24m. Arsene Wenger has always had an eye for young talent, having brought relatively unknown players like Vieira, Fabregas,Van Persie and Anelka into the side. Bergkamp’s best form and Thierry Henry’s graduation into a top striker from a pacy winger were a result of this man’s tactical and footballing acumen.
**Updated till the 859th game
The double was achieved once again in 2001-02, clinching it with a 2-0 win over Manchester United in the penultimate game of the season. They continued their good football into the next season, but a few slip ups towards the fag end of the season proved costly and United won the title. However, the best under Wenger was yet to come, and it arrived in 2003-04 when Arsenal created history by going through the entire season unbeaten earning them the title ‘Invincibles’. Arsenal, ever since, have slumped and have not been able to win any significant silverware. This period, which saw the departures of talismanic striker Henry and later the likes of Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Adebayor and Clichy, also saw them shifting a brand new stadium ‘The Emirates’. The club may have failed to win anything but Wenger ensured that even with a restricted and limited wage budget, Arsenal continue to contest in all fronts. And even without the backing of billionaire owners, the club remains financially stable unlike most around, and most of the credit goes to their manager for that.
Arsene has always had faith in his philosophy; that of nurturing young talent into promising stars. He has, over the last couple of years signed, a herd of young names, most notable ones being Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Carl Jenkinson and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain. A staunch believer in financial fair play, he has been vocal enough about over-spending by clubs like Chelsea and City. Fans have become disillusioned with Wenger’s approach but the manager enjoys full confidence of the board, knowing very well that the club is going in the right direction and it is just a matter of time before they start winning again. With another season drawing to a close and Wenger confirming the signing of Lukas Podolski already, this is an interesting period for the fans. The longest serving manager for Arsenal might just have to pull a rabbit out of the hat to ensure Arsenal win the league next season, especially given that all other teams are looking to spend in the upcoming transfer season. But you can only write-off the Professor at your own peril. Been ridiculed at the time of appointment by the media with articles titled ‘Arsene Who?’, the man has gone on to achieve a lot with this club, and many believe that he would acheive even more.