On the mark of Arsene Wenger’s 16th anniversary at the club, there are rumours abuzz that the Arsenal hierarchy might hand him a four year contract extension, effectively extending his reign in North London to a little over twenty years.
In a little over a decade and a half, the Frenchman transformed the Highbury boy’s from a rather erratic bunch to consistent table toppers. Building upon one of the most fabled defences in English football history, Arsene Wenger introduced attacking flair and discipline into the team’s game, and revolutionized a club, whose former stadium is remembered as the ‘Home of Football’.
Here we take a look at five of Wenger’s greatest achievements at Arsenal FC:
5. The Power of Youth
Richly talented players have often been traded in the transfer market for exorbitant sums of money, with minor league sides often cashing in on their rising stars to fund their clubs regular expenses. The policy often puts into debate the lesser reckoned morals in football, such as loyalty to one’s hometown club and playing for money. To implement it in a top flight club with fans who are hungry for success, it’s an entirely different ball game altogether.
Arsene Wenger’s philosophy of introducing young, inexperienced players into top level games has its fair share of detractors. But over the years it has paid its dividends, with a number of players coming from Arsenal’s youth system achieving stardom at club and national level.
In some cases, young players are bought from other academies cheaply, and then moulded in the Arsenal philosophy. The players have contributed to the club’s success in their maturation phase, and then have been sold off for handsome amounts in their primes, making the entire process a profitable venture.
Of all the academy graduates, the name of Cesc Fabregas tops the list. Cesc was purchased from the famous La Masia Academy of FC Barca. He cracked the first team at the age of 18, winning a FA Cup medal in the process. Other notable graduates in recent times include Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Though Chamberlain was bought from Southampton, his meteoric rise from League One to the English national team is mostly credited to the geniuses of Steve Bould, then youth coach and Arsene Wenger. The duo can also claim credit for the development of Kieran Gibbs, Johan Djourou, Wojciech Szczesny and Aaron Ramsey, who are all fully capped internationals.
The talents on the verge of a breakthrough are Francis Coquelin, Ryo Miyaichi, Joel Campbell and Emmanuel Frimpong.
4. Revolutionary Philosophy
Arsene Wenger has long been a champion of what is called the ‘beautiful game’. The spectators must get what they pay for, and that can only be achieved through beautiful football. Passing has been the trademark of Arsenal’s gameplay over the years. The squad may be built around one or two star players, but no one player is above the club.
Training ground discipline was often over looked with star players being allowed unnecessary perks. Coming from the land of Japan, fabled for its disciplinarian approach to sports, Wenger was quick to introduce a number of restrictions which included the ban on pre-match consumption of alcohol. A planned diet for the footballers which made them adapt to the demands of the rigorous English game.
Why spend a whole week training only to throw it away on the weekend?”, as AW himself puts it.
A number of the modern training methods were introduced, with Wenger most notably credited for being a major proponent of five-a-side football in training.
3. The creation of a brand, The Arsenal
There are reasons why the UCL is the most coveted tournament in the world. Not only is it extremely demanding on the participating managers, in terms of quality of games, tactics and other managerial approaches, it also pays off handsomely. Along with the international coverage rights of the tournament and other perks, the clubs receive a hefty participation fee for every game competed in. For a number of clubs, European football is merely a way to keep the cash flow moving.
Arsene Wenger has delivered a top four finish for 15 years in succession, guaranteeing with it, a berth in top flight European football. Not only does it guarantee the club a steady cash inlet, but also makes it a lucrative haven for players seeking to compete in the greatest club football tournament in the world.
The Champions League participation has not only established the club as an elite force in Europe, but has also allowed it to expand its reach all over the world, with a majority of its fans coming from Asian and African countries. Arsenal fans are often recognised for their fierce loyalty to the north London side.
2. The Emirates Stadium and London Colney
The Highbury Stadium is a classic example of English football infrastructure, with only the likes of Man United’s Old Trafford Stadium, Newcastle’s St. James Park and Liverpool’s Anfield bettering its mark. The only significant problem with Highbury would have been its capacity. Post the conversion of stadiums to all-seated ones, a number of clubs had their cash inlets reduced due to a drastic decrease in ticket sales. To keep in touch with the financial capabilities of other footballing institutions in England, a move away from Highbury seemed most logical.
And so it happened. The Emirates Stadium, as it known for commercial reasons, opened its door to football in 2006, seven years after the idea was first pitched. Fifty per cent of Arsenal’s revenues are accounted for, by ticket sales at the 60,000 seat arena. Apart from that it has also generated revenue by hosting a number of international friendlies and concerts. The Emirates is a UEFA Five Star Category compliant stadium.
Highbury was known for its tradition, class and silverware, while the Emirates Stadium stands for the club’s giant strides towards modernization and stability.
As Arsene himself said it, “(It was the) biggest decision in Arsenal’s history since the board opted to bring Herbert Chapman to the club in 1925.”
Arsene Wenger is also due for credit for the modernization of the training facilities at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground.
1. The Invincible Season And The Two Doubles
Man United and Liverpool may be tied for the most number of league titles won in English football history, but neither of the two giants has gone an entire season unbeaten. The proof: a golden League winner’s trophy which forever resides in the trophy cabinet at Arsenal. The Invincibles were perfect in every sense, from attack to defence. An assembly of star players, who won the greatest distinction in domestic football of going an entire domestic season unbeaten. 49 in all.
The 1997-98 season saw Arsenal boast of a legendary defence with the likes of Tony Adam, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon being fielded. The likes of Anelka and a fading Ian Wright fired in 9 and 11 goals respectively, with Dennis Bergkamp netting a brilliant 22. It also saw the inclusion of a brilliant midfield comprised of Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars and Patrick Vieira. Being 11 points behind Manchester United at a point in the season, the team led a furious charge that saw them take the League by force, enabling Arsene Wenger to be the third ever, non-English manager to win the domestic Double. The others being Kenny Dalglish and Sir Alex Ferguson. Arsenal later sealed the FA Cup with a 2-0 win over Aston Villa.
Three seasons later the triumph was repeated at the home of Arsenal’s oldest rivals, Manchester United. The FA Cup was won once again with a 2-0 win over Chelsea at Wembley.
George Graham may be credited with the discovery of Dennis Bergkamp, but it is Arsene Wenger who tapped the best of his form during his prime years.