It was October 1996 when a little known manager by the name of Arsene Wenger was appointed manager at Arsenal arriving from Chinese club Grampus Eight. Fans, commentators and just about anybody with a view on football were wondering who this man was? This man that looked more like a head teacher than a football manager. Eyebrows were raised. However, this image really should have given us a clue as to the hidden depths of what we now know to be Arsenal’s longest serving and most successful manager – Le Professeur.
The skepticism surrounding the appointment of Wenger was not to last as just 10 months into his tenure he had assembled a team that was to challenge and succeed. The 97/98 season saw Arsenal win the double, a Premier League crown and an F.A cup winners medal. The 01/02 season saw Arsenal achieve the ‘double, double’ where league and cup success was achieved in a season for the second time. The good times at Arsenal were still going under Wenger but they were to get even better in the 03/04 season which ended them being crowned ‘The Invicibles’. Arsenal managed to eclipse Nottingham Forrest’s record of 42 games unbeaten which had stood for 26 years to achieve 49 games, won 36, drawn 13 and lost none.
Arsenal under Wenger were growing not only as a football team but as a football club. Their success meant that there was potential to build on that and challenge to be one of footballs’ super powers. They had outgrown Highbury, their home since the formation of the club and in May 2006 fans and players said their goodbyes and said hello to their new home. The Emirates. This emotional wrench was based on Wengers’ fore-site, he knew that the only way Arsenal were going to challenge for years to come was to look after the business side of thing too. This however meant taking care of the finances and not blowing big lumps of cash on marquee players. This is Wenger’s philosophy though, he has spent his tenure churning out player after player from the youth ranks whilst maintaining a high level of consistency in terms of domestic league standings, cup success and European qualification. In 2006 they reached the champions league final where they faced Barcelona, they were 13 minutes away from victory when Samuel Eto and Julliano Belletti won the game for Barcelona and Sol Campbell’s goal was to be not enough for the gunners.
With unquestioned stability, success, money in the bank, good players and when at the top of their game some of the best football you are likely to see, why are a growing minority of Arsenal fans wanting to see the back of the man that has given them all of that and continues to do so? In total Wenger has delivered 3 Premier League titles, 6 FA Cups, 6 Community shields, 1 Champions League Final and an impressive run of finishing in the top four in every season since he took over.
Stability and consistency are not to undervalued especially in the ever more competitive league like the Premier league, but it seems that now its the success that Arsenal fans believe they have an entitlement to. Not everybody can win everything over and over, not even the ‘special one’ was immune to demise having been sacked halfway through a season where they were defending champions. Liverpool are another example of what instability does, for at least two decades they have had a sprinkling of success but without that stability and consistency you wont get so much as an invitation to winning things. Manchester Utd are now also finding out how difficult life is without stability and consistency, they are now mere mortals, no longer feared and no longer winning games before they are kicked off. Why? Because they had a figure in Sir Alex Ferguson who was that person who delivered good football, healthy bank balance, a big stadium and player after player coming through to the first team, does this remind you of anyone? Manchester city have tried another route, a rich owner with deep pockets. City might be seeing some good football but are they seeing continued academy players? Winning every trophy going? The same manager since the owner came in? No. They’ve had success but they’ve also had failures. For the money that has been spent at the Etihad they should be walking over teams consistently.
Arsene Wenger embodies the modern day ‘manager’ he is the coach, the father figure, the manager, the accountant, the bank manager and the deliverer. Wenger was well ahead of the game and can be thanked by many for bringing standards of sports science, nutrition and coaching to those around him. He blazed the trail then other followed. His old adversary Sir Alex came to respect Wenger because he knew he was made in the same mould – differing personalities but equals when it came to attention to detail and looking after the club they love. All those fans calling for Arsene to go might have short memories and should be careful what they wish for because potential wilderness beckons without ‘Le Professeur’