Arsene Wenger is number 30 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next six weeks.
After 22 years in charge of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger finally stepped down from the managerial hot seat and departed north London.
In his lengthy time with the club, he won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cup crowns, also reaching the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup finals. Those accolades alone show the impact Wenger had during his time in England, but simply reeling off his achievements barely scratches the surface of what he accomplished.
Taking a failing mid-table Gunners side to a maiden Premier League crown within two years, he implemented a free-flowing 'total football' philosophy that helped transcend the English game into what it is today - as well as changing the landscape of the British transfer market.
He even became 'Invincible' - going the entire 2003/04 Premier League season unbeaten as he guided Arsenal to a third top-flight crown in the space of six seasons.
His success was all the more remarkable, particularly to supporters in England, because he was virtually a complete unknown prior to his appointment in late 1996. By that time, Wenger had been in club management for over a decade but had spent the majority of his coaching career in his homeland - spending three years with Nancy, before a seven-year stint with Monaco that yielded a solitary Ligue 1 title.
He was dismissed from the French principality in late 1994 and upped sticks to take on a new challenge in Japan with Nagoya Grampus Eight - having enhanced his profile and reputation by being part of a FIFA governing body responsible for analysing that year's World Cup.
There, Wenger won two domestic cup competitions, challenging his players to think for themselves and make their own decisions, rather than relying on his every command. Though this approach was viewed as brazen and somewhat bizarre, it worked - as Nagoya overcame a dreadful run of form to finish runners-up in the J League, earning Wenger the league's Manager of the Year award.
"At a young age winning is not the most important thing...the important thing is to develop creative and skilled players with good confidence." Arsene Wenger.
His philosophy and commitment to playing a progressive brand of swashbuckling, stylish football had already caught the attention of Arsenal vice-president David Dein in 1995, but it was a full year before a deal was struck to bring Wenger to England.
Upon his eventual arrival, Wenger was given full authority at the club, unlike his predecessors - taking control over transfers, contracts and training sessions. The Gunners began to reap the rewards immediately, finishing third at the end of his first season in charge - having finished fifth and 12th in the previous two campaigns.
Wenger had already brought so much more to the club than results, though. The culture at the club had altered, with the Frenchman, publicly portrayed as a dull, deadpan school teacher, spearheading a change in attitude at Highbury.
He wanted to win, but would never compromise his principles. He would listen to feedback and take on board his players views, but ensured any changes were made in a calculated and calm manner - rather than making knee-jerk reactions.
In his first summer spending spree, he added experience, pace and youthful exuberance to his playing squad. Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars joined Nicolas Anelka, who had arrived a few months previously, and alongside Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp, they added some continental flair to proceedings in north London.
|Ligue 1 (1987/88)|
|Coupe de France (1990/91)|
|Emperor's Cup (1995)|
|J League Manager of the Year (1995)|
|Japanese Super Cup (1996)|
|Premier League (1997/98, 2001/02, 2003/04)|
|FA Cup (1997/98, 2001/02, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2013/14, 2014/15, 2016/17)|
|FA Community Shield (1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2014, 2015, 2017)|
|LMA Manager of the Year (2001/02, 2003/04)|
The result? Arsenal won the league and cup double - winning nine consecutive games towards the back end of the season to overhaul Manchester United, despite trailing by 11 points by the end of February.
Much of his side's success was down to those signings. In central midfield, Petit and Vieira were a formidable partnership who provided the perfect screen in front of defence, while the pace of Overmars and Anelka, alongside the guile and wizardry of Bergkamp, ensured Arsenal were lethal on the counter-attack.
Success was harder to come by in the proceeding seasons, with narrow defeat in the 1998/99 title race followed by two seasons of Premier League 'woe'. The Gunners finished runners-up on both occasions, but the ten and 18-point gaps to Manchester United indicated just how far away Wenger's side were from the Red Devils.
Arsenal were also defeated by Galatasaray in the 2000 UEFA Cup final, one of only two European finals that Wenger would reach with the club - the other being the 2006 Champions League final, which they also lost.
But things would change as Wenger began to the get best out of Thierry Henry. The Frenchman
had already shown his enormous potential, transitioning from a nippy left-winger into one of the Premier League's most feared frontmen.
But during the 2001/02 season, he became the man. 32 goals that season in all competitions fired Wenger's Gunners to a second league and cup double in four seasons. His devastating pace complemented Arsenal's slick passing style, seamlessly transitioning the ball from back-to-front - keeping the ball grounded as often as possible.
|Nagoya Grampus Eight||1995-1996 |
Wenger's crowning glory was still to come, though, with the 2003/04 Premier League season cementing his legacy as one of the greatest managers to ever step foot on the touchline.
His side would remain unbeaten in their 38 games played, showing mental fortitude and character to fightback from the brink time and time again. The accomplishment, which has yet to be repeated in English football, had only been achieved by Preston North End, some 115 years before.
Not only had Wenger achieved the unthinkable, he had done so with minimal tinkering to his playing squad. Instead, he had instilled a belief and a resilience into his current crop of players that nobody could beat them. His hands-on approach to training ensured tactical familiarity was embedded within their minds, with his determination and indomitable spirit pulsing through their veins.
“He’s out of order, disconnected with reality and disrespectful. When you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid sometimes and not more intelligent.” Arsene Wenger on Jose Mourinho.
Though this season would be Wenger's peak at Arsenal, it was by no means his last act in north London. Year after year, he stuck to his principles - resistant to change his mentality and philosophy, despite the successes of cash rich Chelsea and the ongoing Sir Alex Ferguson juggernaut at Manchester United.
During this barren spell, Wenger became embroiled in several high-profile feuds with his managerial adversaries, as his once iron fisted grip of things began to waver.
He had long since clashed with Ferguson, but now he was at war with Jose Mourinho - who dubbed him at a 'specialist in failure' after years of coming up short when it really mattered. He would occasionally lose his cool on the touchline and in press conferences, a far cry from the calm and assured demeanour that Wenger had displayed during his first six or seven years at the club.
He also found it difficult to keep world class players at the club. Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri are just three examples of sublime talents who, under the guidance of the Frenchman, had flown the Arsenal nest to go elsewhere to win silverware.
Throughout the initial dark days, Wenger maintained support from the majority of those at the club. The moniker 'In Arsene We Trust' proudly displayed on banners around the Emirates Stadium as Wenger stayed true to himself and his identity.
One thing he always did was stand by his players, shouldering the responsibility when things went wrong. But as the years dragged on, things continued to go wrong - with fast starts in the league often leading to embarrassing collapses.
As a result, his posture began to sag under the weight of expectation and his hands were often tied. The club no longer wanted to invest in the playing staff, with Wenger doing the best he could with the limited (in comparison to the likes of Manchester City) resources at his disposal. He became somewhat of an FA Cup specialist during his last few years in charge, winning three finals in four seasons between 2014 and 2017.
But the 'Wenger Out' brigade soon spoke for the majority of the club's fanbase, and in 2018, the mounting pressure finally told. After 22 years and an astounding 1,235 games, he announced he would depart, with an immediate outpouring of love and affection showing exactly what he means to Arsenal, as well as the wider footballing world.
Yes, the Gunners were, and are, a shadow of their former selves. But because of Wenger, the club has a footballing identity. They have history, they have prestige and are still well regarded as one of the biggest clubs in European football, despite their 15-year run without a Premier League crown.
That's all because of one man. That's all because of Arsene Wenger.
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