After 7904 days in charge of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger is no longer Arsenal manager.
Arsene Who? Was the Evening Standard headline when he took over the club following a year of Bruce Rioch way back in 1996.
A relative unknown in an era before social media, Wenger joined in an era when clubs did not employ foreign managers, let alone a man who looked more like a university lecturer rather than a football manager. Someone who had no playing career of note, and ha just spent a year in Japan.
At the time, former Barcelona manager Johan Cruyff was favourite to take over, but the board looked elsewhere, eventually backing Dein’s proposal to hire Wenger, who he had tried to get into the club the previous year before Rioch came in.
He officially assumed the role on 1 October 1996. At his first press conference, he told reporters: “The main reason for coming is that I love English football, the roots of the game are here. I like the spirit round the game and at Arsenal I like the spirit of the club and its potential.”
Wenger adopted a hands on approach, taking control over transfers, contracts and training sessions, and the Arsenal board chose not to meddle in team affairs. This included changing the diet of all players of the club, bringing in more continental attitudes to health and fitness, and eventually convincing the board to finance a new state of the art training ground and adopt an Ajax style Academy.
The likes of Lee Dixon and Tony Adams credited the change in lifestyle to extending their careers. Wenger also reorganized the clubs scouting policy. Rather than looking at traditional markets such as the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia, scouts were sent throughout the Europe, South America and eventually Africa.
Wenger’s first match was a 2–0 away victory over Blackburn Rovers on 12 October 1996. His first season in charge saw Arsenal finish 3rd – the clubs highest finish since the 1991 title triumph.
Arsenal began the 1997–98 season well but struggled in November. Defeat at home to Blackburn Rovers left the club in sixth position before Christmas and seemingly out of contention for the title.
Wenger called for an urgent team meeting, where “home truths were spoken, fingers pointed, players were geed up.” The squad dictated how the conversation went, which the senior defenders made it clear they wanted Vieira and Petit to provide more cover.
Such was the likelihood of Manchester United going on to retain the title, bookmaker Fred Done paid out on punters with two months of the season left.
Arsenal steadily closed the gap, however, and victory against Wimbledon in March 1998 set up a title clash between themselves and the reigning champions. Wenger in the lead up to the game maintained it was possible for Arsenal to win the league.
At Old Trafford, Marc Overmars scored the decisive goal to give Arsenal a 1–0 win. The victory was followed by nine consecutive league wins, the last of which was a home fixture against Everton that secured Arsenal’s status as champions.
Scoring the 4th goal against Everton was Mr Arsenal, Tony Adams. A left footed half volley, having been put through by Steve Bould. An iconic goal which saw the coming together of an Arsenal legend in Adams, and Wenger’s new philosophy of playing free flowing attacking football.
Wenger became the first foreign manager to win the double, when his team beat Newcastle United in the 1998 FA Cup Final.
That summer, Wenger sanctioned Wright’s transfer to West Ham in the summer and made Nicolas Anelka his first-choice striker ahead of the 1998–99 season
The following seasons were comparatively barren.
Arsenal struggled in the Champions League, the club finished runners-up to Manchester United 3 consecutive sides.
Top early Arsene Wenger signings in Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka were allowed to leave. Replacing Anelka was Juventus’ French winger, Thierry Henry.
In 2000, Arsenal lost a bad tempered UEFA Cup Final against Galatasaray on penalties, and finished 18 points behind Manchester United.
Despite finishing second again in 2000-01, Wenger’s side failed to mount a serious challenge to Manchester United. The trophy drought continued when Michael Owen scored two late goals for Liverpool to beat Arsenal in the FA Cup Final.
The 2001–02 season brought much success as Wenger led Arsenal to the double once more.
The crowning moment was the win against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the penultimate game of the season. Sylvain Wiltord scored the winning goal to secure the club’s 12th league championship and third double.
Four days earlier, Arsenal beat Chelsea 2–0 in the 2002 FA Cup Final. The team scored in every single league fixture and were unbeaten away from home that season.
After the 2002 victory, club captain Tony Adams decided to retire. Adams had been Wenger’s right hand man on the pitch throughout his career, and can take a lot of credit for the early success, bridging a gap between the players and management, the old school English way of playing and the new school continental methods.
“Nobody will finish above us in the league. It wouldn’t surprise me if we were to go unbeaten for the whole of the season” – Arsene Wenger; 2002
At the beginning of the 2002/03 season, Wenger made a bold claim that Arsenal could go the campaign unbeaten.
Having built a team which contained the likes of Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, it was a a claim that had many in the media sniggering. The last team to go a season unbeaten was Preston North End in 1888-89.
Arsenal started well, increasing their winning run to 14 league games, and surpassing Manchester United’s Premier League total of 29 matches unbeaten.
The run came to an end on 19th October 2002. Five days before his 17th birthday, Wayne Rooney scored a last-minute winning goal, bringing an end to Arsenal’s 30 game unbeaten run.
The defeat led to a famous meme being created 9before meme’s were a thing) of Arsene Wenger dressed as Iraqi diplomat and politician Comical Ali, alongside the quotes that he would not be surprised if the team went unbeaten.
Wenger’s team built an eight-point lead over challengers Manchester United by March 2003, they were overhauled in the final weeks of the season.
Arsenal won the FA Cup with a 1-0 victory over Southampton – just the 4th time the trophy had been retained since 1900.
Prior to the 2003-04 season, Martin Keown voiced his concern that Wenger harmed their chances by boasting they could go the season unbeaten.
“Look, I said that because I think you can do it. But you must really want it,” was Wenger’s reply.
Arsenal did little transfer business given the financial demands that came with their new stadium project; their only major signing was Jens Lehmann, who replaced David Seaman as goalkeeper.
Six games into the league season, Arsenal were involved in a brawl against Manchester United; the ill-feeling stemmed from Vieira’s dismissal late on. Several players were charged and fined accordingly by the FA and Wenger apologised for his team’s overreaction.
Wenger led his side to league triumph without a single defeat – an accomplishment last achieved by Preston North End 115 years before, in the Football League.
“Somebody threw me a T-shirt after the trophy was presented which read ‘Comical Wenger says we can go the whole season unbeaten.’ I was just a season too early!,” he remarked during the club’s victory parade.
Arsenal’s run of 49 league games unbeaten came to an end with a 2–0 defeat at Manchester United on 24 October 2004.
The team under Wenger’s management enjoyed another relatively strong league campaign in 2004–05, but finished second to nouveau-riche Chelsea, who ended the season 12 points in front.
Consolation again came in the FA Cup where Arsenal defeated Manchester United on penalties, after a goalless final. It would be Arsenal’s last trophy for a while.
The 2005–06 season marked the beginning of a transitional period for Arsenal as it was the club’s final season at Highbury.
Moving ground was something that Wenger had been pushing for since he joined Arsenal and had declared that the move would allow Arsenal to fulfill their potential.
Arsenal were struggling to compete financially with Manchester United – who’s gate receipts were double that of Arsenal’s.
The team finished fourth in the Premier League and outside the top two for the first time under Wenger’s tenure.
In Europe, however, Wenger assembled an inexperienced defence that beat Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal and conceded no goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
They progressed to the final in May 2006, but ended the competition as runners-up to Barcelona.
In the summer of 2006, Wenger oversaw Arsenal’s relocation to the Emirates Stadium.
Moving to the new stadium, however, presented several problems in the short term, as the club prioritised financing it over the team.
Wenger sold some of his experienced players such as Campbell, Lauren and Pirès, sanctioned Ashley Cole’s move to Chelsea in part exchange for defender William Gallas, and integrated young players like Theo Walcott and Alex Song into the first team.
His youthful team contested the League Cup final in February 2007 and were the youngest to play in a major English cup final, averaging 21 years. They ultimately came up short against Chelsea, who won the match 2–1.
Arsenal finished fourth in the 2006–07 league season; Wenger had ruled out their title chances following defeat to Bolton in November 2006. The team’s lack of directness and efficiency of possession was a familiar theme during the campaign; Guardian journalist Daniel Taylor observed two matches into the league season: “The most watchable side are frequently the most frustrating. Arsenal are wonderfully incisive yet infuriatingly blunt.”.
It would be a fustration of Arsenal for the next half a decade. Brilliant football but with little success.
In April 2007, Arsene Wenger’s close ally, David Dein left due to “irreconcilable differences” about the future of the club. Wenger described it as a “sad day for Arsenal,” and sought assurances from the board over his future as well as reasons for Dein’s departure. That summer he also lost the club talisman, Thierry Henry.
In September 2007, Wenger signed a new three-year extension, insisting that he remained committed to “the club of my life.”
The 2007-08 season was one which promised so much.
Free of the huge ego that was Henry, a young Arsenal side flourished, with Cesc Fabregas becoming a key play. Arsenal soon built a five-point lead over Manchester United, and looked set to win their first league title since 2004.
A career-threatening injury to striker Eduardo against Birmingham City on 23 February 2008 acted as a turning point in Arsenal’s season.
Wenger, incensed at the aggressive tactics of opponents, called for a ban on tackler Martin Taylor in his post-match interview; he later retracted the comment. Arsenal’s form subsequently suffered, and a run of three consecutive draws in March allowed Manchester United and Chelsea to overhaul them as they finished the season in third.
Arsenal made a troubled start to Wenger’s twelfth season. The club relieved Gallas of his captaincy, after he openly questioned his teammates, and Wenger appointed Fàbregas as his successor.
Arsenal secured fourth position in the league and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and FA Cup, but it was a fourth season without silverware.
The 2009-10 season saw the first rumblings of discontent from Arsenal fans.
Wenger was subject to criticism from Arsenal fans; he praised the travelling supporters, though referred to a section of the home crowd as treating him “like a murderer”.
Arsenal finished third in the league in 2009–10. Wenger had reached a landmark in October 2009, surpassing George Allison to become Arsenal’s longest-serving manager.
In August 2010, Wenger signed a further three-year contract to continue his managerial career at Arsenal. The team were competing on 4 fronts in 2010–11, before defeat to Birmingham City in the 2011 Football League Cup Final derailed the side.
This loss was followed by a run of just two wins in 11 Premier League games, to take them from title contenders to a fourth-place finish.
Wenger’s preparations for the 2011–12 season were disrupted by player unrest.
Though he insisted none of his top players would leave the club, Fabregas eventually moved to Barcelona, while Gaël Clichy and Samir Nasri joined Manchester City. On 29 August 2011, Arsenal were trounced 8–2 by Manchester United, which represented their worst defeat in 115 years.
Despite qualifying for the Champions League for a 15th successive campaign, another season of no silverware followed.
During the 2011/12 campaign, Arsene Wenger claimed that making a Champions League place is a ‘trophy’. This led to mocking in the media and from opposing fans and the invention of the “Top 4 Trophy”.
The 2012–13 season was Wenger’s first without Pat Rice, who retired in late spring. Steve Bould was named as his replacement.
Arsenal struggled to find consistency in the league and were 12 points behind leaders Manchester United by November 2012.
A month later, Wenger came under strong criticism following his side’s exit in the League Cup to Bradford City, when a full-strength team lost on penalties to opposition three divisions below. Further cup defeats to Blackburn Rovers and Bayern Munich in the FA Cup and Champions League, respectively, ended Arsenal’s trophy chances for an eighth consecutive season.
Before the first leg, Wenger had criticised the media for reporting he was about to sign a contract extension, and said of the Blackburn game: “We lost it in the last 20 minutes, so there are a lot of superficial analyses that you cannot accept. Because one guy says something, everybody goes the same way”.
Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top four appeared over by March, after defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.
With ten league matches remaining, they were seven points behind their rivals, and Wenger admitted his side could not afford any more dropped points. Wenger’s adjustments worked in the league as his team went on a run to overhaul Tottenham for a second successive season.
A win on the final day against Newcastle United secured fourth position, which Wenger described as a “relief”.
Arsenal’s celebrations after the victory over Newcastle led to further criticisms from the media and was further proof that Wenger no longer cared about winning trophies.
Having gone 9 years without a trophy, the pressure was well and truly on in 2013. With Arsene Wenger’s contract set to come to an end, the tide had well and truly turned, with vocal protests outside the ground and on social media demanding he not be offered a new contract.
An opening day defeat at home to Aston Villa was met with boos and fans screaming “spend some f*****g money”. Wenger then sanctioned the club record signing of Mesut Özil from Real Madrid, totalling £42.5 million.
Arsenal led the league going into the New Year, but a poor run of form, including losing 6-0 to Chelsea in Wenger’s 1000th match in charge of Arsenal saw Arsenal finish in 4th.
Success was on the horizon though as Arsenal played Hull City in the FA Cup Final – the clubs first final since the defeat to Birmingham in 2011.
Wenger guided his team to FA Cup success, as they came from two goals down to beat Hull City in the final, and clinch Arsenal their first trophy in nine years.
At the end of the season, Wenger signed another three-year extension to his Arsenal contract.
A year later, Wenger won his sixth FA Cup, which placed him alongside George Ramsay as the most successful manager in the competition’s history.
2015-16 was a season of underachievement. Despite finishing 2nd, Arsenal ended up 10 points behind 5000/1 champions Leicester City. The feeling was with a bit more investment and tactical nous, the title was there for the taking for Arsenal.
With a year left on his contract, the feeling was stronger than ever at the stadium that the 2016/17 season should be Arsene Wenger’s last. The second half of the season was overshadowed with a will he won’t he situation over Arsene Wenger’s contract.
There was talk that Ivan Gazidis was openly courting other managers, and that it would be Wenger’s last season at the club. Contract talk destabilised the club and led to Arsenal finishing outside the Top 4 – and behind Spurs – for the first time under Arsene Wenger.
That season ended with another trip to Wembley, with Arsene Wenger leading the club to is 3rd FA Cup in 4 years. The victory over Chelsea also put Wenger on his own as the undisputed FA Cup King – winning more FA Cups than any other manager.
Four days following the win, Wenger signed a contract extension until 2019. The change that had been promised at the club failed to materialise, and another poor summer of transfer put even more pressure on Arsene Wenger.
Arsene Wenger twice broke the Arsenal transfer record in 2017/18.
Firstly with the signing of Alexandre Lacazette in the summer for a fee of £45m, then Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for £56 million in January. By the time Aubameyang and Henrik Mkhitaryan joined the club in January, it was too little too late for most fans.
With his new contract until 2019, the air certainly had a feeling of “beginning of the end” about it.
In the first half of the 2017/18 season, Raul Sanllehi & Sven Mislintat joined the club as Head of Footballing Relations and Head of Recruitment. This was the first time since David Dein had left that Arsene Wenger had footballing people on a similar level to him. It showed that the club was reducing the power of Wenger and sharing it amongst others.
With the worst away form in the Premier League, fans had started to stay away. At times the Emirates Stadium had 20,000 empty seats for Premier League games. Fans were voting with their feet, they were fed up, anger had turned to apathy. it was feeling like a time for change.
A defeat against Nottingham Forest in the 3rd round of the FA Cup was a low. This was followed by a League Cup dismantling by Manchester City.
With the club 6th in the league, it was announced on 20 April 2018 that Arsene Wenger would leave Arsenal at the end of the 2017/2018 season.
In his closing weeks, he failed to secure the European success that eluded him for 3 decades, losing to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League.
A final 6th place finish in his final season.
And that was that.
Arsene Wenger is Arsenal’s most successful manager of all time. No Arsenal manager has ever won more.
At the same time he is also Arsenal’s least successful manager. No Arsenal manager has ever had so many trophyless seasons.
History will probably remember the former rather than the later. He has broken records that could stand the team of history. 7 FA Cups is more than any other manager. 49 games unbeaten. History will remember the way he revolutionised the game. It will remember the trophies. And it will remember The Invincibles.
No matter what you think of Wenger, and his dictatorship ways, it is undeniable that over the near quarter of decade at Arsenal, he has given us some unforgettable memories.
So Arsene Wenger, thanks for the memories. It is time to say goodbye.
Arsenal Managerial Record
- Played: 1,235
- Won: 707
- Drawn: 280
- Lost: 248
- Win%: 57.2%
Arsenal Managerial honours
- FA Premier League (3): 1997–98, 2001–02, 2003–04
- FA Cup (7): 1997–98, 2001–02, 2002–03, 2004–05, 2013–14, 2014–15, 2016–17
- FA Community Shield (7): 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2014, 2015, 2017
- Officer of the Order of the British Empire: 2003
- Onze d’Or Coach of The Year: 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004
- Legion d’Honneur: 2002.
- Premier League Manager of the Season: 1998, 2002, 2004
- LMA Manager of the Year: 2001–02, 2003–04
- BBC Sports Personality of the Year Coach Award: 2002, 2004
- London Football Awards: Outstanding Contribution to a London Club – 2015
- World Manager of the Year: 1998
- Freedom of Islington: 2004
- FWA Tribute Award: 2005
- English Football Hall of Fame: 2006
- France Football: Manager of the Year – 2008
- IFFHS World Coach of the Decade: 2001–2010
- Premier League Manager of the Month: March 1998, April 1998, October 2000, April 2002, September 2002, August 2003, February 2004, August 2004, September 2007, December 2007, February 2011, February 2012, September 2013, March 2015, October 201