Arsene Wenger’s top ten outstanding achievements.
10) Staying for so long
Of course, he stayed too long. Managers who remain at a club for a generation are rare, but ones that maintain their success for the whole time are virtually non-existent. But even though he outstayed his welcome, we shouldn’t overlook that 22 years in one place is still an exceptional achievement.
For most of those seasons he finished in the top four and essentially built the club as it exists now.
9) Signing Patrick Vieira
Wenger was appointed in August 1996 but didn’t arrive until October. But in those two months he directed the club to sign Patrick Vieira, who became the towering, driving force behind three title wins, and perhaps the key player of the Wenger era. When he signed, the Times in England called him “the thinking man’s Carlton Palmer”. With respect to Mr Palmer, he was a little better than that.
8) Keeping ‘The Defence’
Wenger is credited with revolutionising Arsenal, and arguably English football. But when he arrived he was smart enough to realise firstly that too much change too soon would be a mistake, but also that he had a ready-made defence at his disposal.
Seaman, Dixon, Adams, Bould, Keown and Winterburn were the rock on which the 1997/98 title was based, conceding just 33 goals.
7) Thrashing Inter in the San Siro.
One blemish on Wenger’s record might be the Champions League: One final in 19 seasons of competition isn’t great, but it did provide one of the great games of his tenure.
Arsenal travelled to Milan having not won any of their first three group games, but blew Inter away, coming from behind to record a 5-1 hammering.
Ashley Cole described it as better than England’s 5-1 win in Germany: quite a compliment.
6) The 2014 FA Cup
This should have been the moment he called it a day. When Arsenal beat Hull in the 2014 FA Cup final, Wenger broke a nine-year drought, winning the old trophy for the fifth time. He would go on to lift two more, making him the most successful manager in the competition’s history.
That should have been his cue to gracefully bow out, on a note of success rather than amid the whiff of stagnation.
5) Winning the double in 1998
Some think Wenger’s first title-winning team was his best. “He made us change the way we played against them,” said Gary Neville. That team with Overmars, Petit, Vieira, Bergkamp, Wright and the rest were thrilling, and from December to May they won 14 of 17 games as they chased down Manchester United.
Throw in the FA Cup too: and all in his first full season.
4) Converting Thierry Henry into a striker
When Thierry Henry joined Arsenal from Juventus in 1999, he was a talented forward who had spent some time on the wing but even longer infuriating people with his inconsistency.
For a while he looked like a mistake, but Wenger put him up front, and seven years, two league titles and 226 goals later, he earned himself a statue outside the Emirates.
3) Winning the double in 2002
There’s a good argument that this was Wenger’s finest season, firstly because it was probably the peak of Wenger football: Electrifying pace and passing, individual brilliance combined with a ferocious team ethic. But secondly because this was definitively Wenger’s team: Most of the regulars were his recruits, and they were utterly extraordinary.
2) Convincing the world he wasn’t ‘Arsene who?’
Most, including the Arsenal players, were sceptical when this bespectacled French intellectual arrived from Japan, and more than one media outlet asked: Arsene who? English football culture is pretty conservative now, but back in 1996 it was even more so. No foreign coach had ever won the title, and some thought he could not understand the game in England. It didn’t take him long to prove them wrong.
1) The Invincibles
Pick holes in the achievement of 2003/04 all you like — too many draws, failure in Europe, knocked out of the cups — but going a whole league season without losing is an astounding feat. The only other team to do it in English football was Preston in 1888/89, when there were only 12 teams in the division. Don’t forget the two games the season before and nine after: 49 unbeaten in total.
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