Having been outclassed by the same side one year previously in the quarter final stage, in the build up to this Champions League last 16 knockout tie, Cesc Fabregas-then Arsenal captain, called Barcelona the “greatest side in the history of football.” On a magical night at the Emirates, Arsenal fought back from a David Villa goal, and a first half deficit, to win 2-1, with wonder goals from Robin Van Persie and the mercurial Andrey Arshavin. Although the tie ultimately ended after a disappointing 3-1 defeat in Barcelona, this win remains one of Wenger’s greatest, proving his tactical acumen, as his substitutions changed the game, Arshavin coming on to score the winner, as well as the success of his footballing philosophy.
10. 2005 FA Cup
21st May 2005
Often overlooked as an impressive achievement by pundits and fans, Wenger’s FA Cup win in 2005 was his 7th trophy in 9 seasons, a remarkable success rate, given the success of Manchester United in that time. The win was made all the more satisfying by the fact that the cup was won due to a win against the old enemy, Manchester United, on penalties no less, despite the Gunners having been outclassed in the final, and only prevailing thanks to one of Jens Lehmann’s greatest games in an Arsenal shirt.The run to the final was marked by an impressive away win against Sheffield United, in which the Young Guns excelled, and a convincing semi-final win against Blackburn in Cardiff.
9. Bringing Through Young Players
One of Wenger’s legacies, especially between 2005 and 2012 was his willingness to bring through youth players, with the club financially handicapped by the building and financing of a new stadium. Whilst this policy has not brought about the silverware craved by Arsenal fans the world over, it has kept Arsenal in the top 4, allowing the funds to be avaliable for this seemingly new era of big spending to occur. How many players has he plucked from obscurity and turned into world beaters? Anelka, Fabregas, Van Persie, Adebayor, Wilshere, Nasri, Vieira, Cole, Gibbs, Toure; the list goes on and on. It is Wenger’s success with young players, and his skill in improving them, that make Arsenal, and Wenger, such attractive propositions for any young player, as seen with his successful pursuit of Ramsey, snatching him from under United’s noses, a move now recognised as a justified one.
8. 11/12 Season
13th May 2012
A seemingly strange choice here, but let me explain. Rewind to 28th August 2011, and at Old Trafford, Arsenal suffered their heaviest defeat since 1896, being thrased 8-2 by a rampant Manchester United, leaving them 17th, with many pundits writing off a Champions League place. In response, Wenger brought out his dusty chequebook, signing 5 players on Transfer Deadline Day. At first, they seemed to have no effect, the Gunners losing 4-3 to Blackburn, compounding their worst start to a league season in over 50 years. However, over the course of the season, massively disadvantaged by the loss of Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy in the pre-season, Wenger dragged Arsenal up to third, thanks mainly to Robin Van Persie, who promptly buggered off to Manchester United the next season. A final day win at West Brom proved crucial, as following Chelsea’s Champions League triumph, Tottenham, who came 4th, having thrown away a 12 point lead over Arsenal and a 2 goal lead at the Emirates, were relegated to the Europa League.
7. Financial Security
Armed with his Economics degree from Strasbourg University, Wenger has also sought to run Arsenal in a self-sufficient way, free of the influence of the Oligarchs that dominate Chelsea and Manchester City. Wenger’s skill at balancing the books has led to Arsenal’s increasingly strong financial state, placing them well for FFP, leading the building of a new stadium, as well as finally giving them the funds to sign players of the calibre of Ozil. Incredibly, Wenger has only made a yearly loss ONCE as Arsenal manager, a staggering achievement considering the success he has brought us.
Since joining Arsenal, Wenger has never failed to finish outside the Top 4, ensuring permanent Champions League football. Since the Champions League was reformatted in 2003/04, only Arsenal and Real Madrid have got through the group stages in every season, highlighting the remarkable consistency Wenger has blessed us with. Below is a graph of Arsenal finishing positions post-World War II, and the consistency Wenger has given us is evident. Wenger’s constant loyalty is also something to admired, both to the club, turning down multiple chances to join bigger clubs such as Real Madrid, and to players, such as Ramsey, Diaby and Rosicky, make him one of the best man motivators in the business.
5. Second Double
8th May 2002
After near misses in the UEFA Cup in 2000, and the FA Cup in 2001, Arsenal were ruled out in many quarters before the season had even started. A stunning 13 game winning run secured the league, made all the more satisfying by Wiltord’s winner at Old Trafford sealing the double, the first part having been achieved by beating Chelsea in Cardiff the previous weekend, thanks to wonder goals from Parlour and Ljungberg. Arsenal also completed the incredible achievement of staying undefeated away from home during the whole season, a feat that was to be repeated 2 years later.
Stuttering on the domestic front, few gave Arsenal any chance when they were drawn against Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League. However, a wonder goal from Thierry Henry, coupled with a defence midway through the longest ever run in the Champions League without conceding a goal saw Arsenal progress to face Juventus, who were sent packing 2-0 on aggregate. Villarreal were also seen off, Wenger’s 4-5-1 paying dividends in Europe, once again proving his tactical brilliance. Unfortunately, Arsenal’s run was cruelly ended in Paris by Barcelona, but nothing should be taken away from this achievement, considering the relative inexperience of many members of the side, and the sides that were beaten en route to the final.
3. First Double
In his first full season as Arsenal manager, Wenger well and truly announced himself to the footballing world, overturning a 12 point deficit on Manchester United after some bookies had even suspended betting on the title. Marc Overmars’ goal at Old Trafford was the turning point, and thanks to PFA Player of the Season Dennis Bergkamp, and Captain Fantastic Tony Adams, rejuvenated by Wenger and his revolutionary training methods, Arsenal sealed the title with a 4-0 win at home to Everton, quickly followed by a Cup win against Newcastle.
An achievement that may never be matched in the history of English football. Playing the greatest football these shores have ever seen, Wenger’s team swatted all domestic opposition aside with contempt, going an incredible 49 games unbeaten, from 7th May 2003 to 24th October 2004, winning the league at White Hart Lane with 4 games to spare. Success on the Cup fronts was not forthcoming however, with defeats to Chelsea and United denying Arsenal what was their best ever chance for a treble.
1. Stadium Move
22nd July 2006
Whatever silverware Wenger wins in his remaining time as Arsenal manager, nothing will come close to epitomising his legacy, devotion and foresightedness than the opening of the Emirates Stadium. Quickly realising that Highbury wasn’t sufficient to allow the revenue of Arsenal to match those of United, Wenger pushed for a stadium move from the day he arrived, getting permission in 2004. The Emirates Stadium will stand for decades as a memorial to Arsene Wenger’s care and vision for Arsenal Football Club. Thank you Arsene, for everything.