Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Arsene Wenger's 10 Greatest Achievements At Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger took the role as manager of Arsenal in October 1996, and now almost 15 years later he still holds the post. When he was first appointed he was a relative unknown in England despite his successes at Monaco in France. He is now the club's longest serving manager, and his legacy is there for all to see.

He introduced a style of play to Arsenal which their fans could only have dreamed of previously, and the club also play in a modern state-of-the-art stadium thanks to him. Things may not have gone as well as he may have hoped in recent years, but he has written his name in the history of the club. I'll attempt to list what I think are his 10 greatest achievements at the club in this article.

Arsenal's Style Of Play:
When Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal it was only 20 months after the sacking of George Graham for receiving an "unsolicited gift" from a football agent. Graham had played a dour defensive game with emphasis on hard work and it could easily have been described as "long ball" football. His successor was Bruce Rioch, but he only lasted 14 months in the job.

Rioch had tried to change the Arsenal style of play gradually, and he was the man responsible for signing the legendary Denis Bergkamp. When Wenger arrived he heralded a new era for Arsenal, as he encouraged his team to play a continental style of football. The Arsenal fans were quick to warm to the new style, and amazingly so were the English core of the team.

Arsenal's defence had a reputation for being very good at defending, but never daring to actually play football. Wenger managed to get players like Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn to play a game which had seemed alien to them previously. The new players Wenger introduced complimented the core which he kept, and Arsenal's new style was a revelation in the Premier League.

The First Double:
Wenger's first full season in charge at Arsenal was 1997/8, and he went on to complete a domestic double in that season. Arsenal had only just failed to finish second the previous season, and they managed to improve considerably to claim the their second double. Manchester United had dominated English football since the advent of the Premier League, but Arsenal emerged as their first sustained threat in that season.

They had not performed too well up until the turn of the year, but they went on a magnificent run which blew every other team away. The crunch game for Arsenal was their visit to champions United in the middle of March, and Marc Overmars scored the only goal to give them a deserved victory. That game was in the middle of a run of 11 consecutive victories which climaxed with a 4-0 home victory over Everton to clinch the title.

The sight of Tony Adams striding forward to volley home Arsenal's final goal from a Steve Bould pass will live forever in the hearts of Arsenal fans. They rounded off their season with a comfortable FA Cup final victory over Newcastle United a week after the league season had ended. It had been a great season for Arsenal and more was to come under Wenger.

The Second Double:
Arsenal had come so close to winning other trophies since their domestic double in 1998, but they had just fallen short. In the 2001/2 season they managed to climb to the summit of English football with yet another Premier League and FA Cup double. Their closet rivals in the league were yet again Manchester United, and Arsenal managed to take the trophy off them at Old Trafford too.

Arsenal finished the season by winning their final 13 league games in a row to win by seven points from Liverpool who overtook United right at the end to claim the runners up spot. Arsenal clinched the FA Cup with a 2-0 victory over Chelsea, and four days later they went to Old Trafford and won the league title with a goal from Sylvan Wiltord. Not only were Arsenal champions, but they had also scored in every game and were unbeaten away from home.

The future looked like it belonged to Arsenal, but they relinquished their league title to United the next season. They did manage to retain the FA Cup though with a 1-0 win over Southampton in their third final appearance in a row.

Thierry Henry:
Wenger signed Thierry Henry from Juventus in August 1999 after he had only joined them the previous January. He had managed Henry at Monaco and he had always considered him to be a central striker despite the fact that he was usually deployed in a wide role. When Henry signed for Arsenal Wenger deployed him in that central role, and he went on to become the club's record goalscorer.

Henry managed to score more than 20 league goals in each of the five seasons between 2002 and 2007 and he managed 226 goals in all competitions for Arsenal. At his best Henry was simply unstoppable, and he was one of the reasons why Arsenal won the double in 2002 and went unbeaten in 2004. It's sometimes easy to forget exactly how good Henry was, and how difficult it was for Arsenal to replace him.

Wenger's vision and belief in Henry's ability transformed him into one of the stars of world football after he had such a hard time at Juventus. To this day Henry still supports Arsenal, and he wants to come back and work at the club one day when he retires from playing.

The Invincibles:
Arsenal achieved possibly their greatest feat under Wenger in the 2003/4 season when they went through the whole Premier League season unbeaten. It's a record which had not been achieved by any English club in over 100 years, and the chances are it will never be achieved again. As well as going unbeaten in the Premier League and winning the title Arsenal also played at a level other teams simply couldn't cope with.

Arsenal had won the double in 2002 and early in the next season Wenger was asked by a journalist if his team could go through a whole season unbeaten. He gave an honest reply and said that he thought it was possible, but the media slated him when Arsenal did lose a game. They probably should have won the league that season too, but they came back the season afterwards to prove what the manager had said was actually possible.

It was a fantastic time to be an Arsenal fan, and there were some real highlights in the season. The 0-0 draw away to Manchester United early in the season was a game filled with controversy, as United missed a last minute penalty to keep Arsenal's record intact. The game which summed the whole season up was the 4-2 win at home to Liverpool when a Thierry Henry hat-trick helped them come from 2-1 down.

To make matters even better for Arsenal fans the league title was clinched on the ground of their arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur with a 2-2 draw.

49 Continious League Games Unbeaten:
Arsenal finished the 2003 season in second place in the Premier League, but it also heralded a run of 49 unbeaten league games which spanned three seasons. The run started in with a 6-1 win over Southampton at Highbury and it spanned all of the next season and the first nine games of the season after that too. It finally came to an end in Arsenal's attempt to remain unbeaten for 50 league games away to Manchester United.

The bad blood between the two teams from the previous season continued into this game, and it wasn't helped by Wayne Rooney's dive to win a penalty which was scored by Ruud van Nistleroy. A late second goal was scored by Rooney as Arsenal tried to get an equaliser, but as usual refereeing at Old Trafford had gone the way of the home team. It was a bitter blow for Arsenal and by the end of the season the title had gone to Chelsea, as the invincibles were breaking up.

Arsenal played some magnificent football during the 49 game unbeaten run, and they were a joy to behold. The goalposts have been moved in English football since then with the huge amounts of money invested in both Chelsea and Manchester City. The chances of any club beating Arsenal's are very slim, and Wenger will always be remembered for his magnificent feat.

Arsenal's New Stadium:
Arsenal were one of the best teams in England and in Europe too, but Wenger recognised that they needed to expand to keep pace with the other big clubs in the game. He was the driving force behind the club's decision to move from Highbury to Ashburton Grove in 2006. It may have been a very short distance for the club to travel, but it came at an enormous cost.

It cost the club almost €500 million to build the new stadium, and huge loans had to be taken out to cover those costs. The land the club owned in the surrounding area was redeveloped, and the profits from the property sales have helped to ease the burden on the club. It was a big risk for Arsenal to take, as they received no public funding for the project and Wenger had to cut back on player purchases as a result.

It led to Wenger putting even more emphasis on the club's youth policy, and it's seen as the main reason Arsenal haven't won a trophy since 2005. The capacity and income earning capability of the new stadium should help to keep Arsenal at the very top of the tree in club football, but it's a difficult time for the fans as they try to get there. There is no doubt that Arsenal's finances would be in a much worse state if they had stayed in the much smaller Highbury, but it's never easy for fans when their team aren't winning trophies.

When Wenger eventually calls it a day at Arsenal the magnificent new stadium will be part of his legacy which will never be forgotten.

14 Consecutive Seasons Of Champions League Football:
Since Wenger took the reins at Arsenal he has managed to qualify for the Champions League for the last 14 seasons in a row. The only time Arsenal didn't qualify for the Champions League under him was after his first season, but he wasn't the manager for all of that season. During that time Arsenal have reached the final only once when they lost 2-1 to Barcelona in 2006.

The money generated by all of those years in the Champions League has been one of the reasons why Arsenal have remained a force in English football. They have a real challenge to retain that place this season, but Wenger has brought in players at the end of the transfer window who will hopefully make it 15 years in a row. Some of the best teams in Europe have failed to qualify for the tournament in those years, but Wenger manages to deliver for Arsenal time after time.

Unfortunately Wenger's success has also created a stick for some of the fans to beat him with, as Champions League qualification is no longer seen as enough by many of the Arsenal supporters.

Arsenal's Youth Policy:
When Wenger arrived at Arsenal he very quickly realised that Arsenal needed to develop their own talent if they were going to compete at the very top. He set about setting up a system to help to scout the best young talent in England and throughout the rest of the world too. Gradually young players have worked their way through the ranks at Arsenal and into the first team too.

The young players aren't always a success, but quite often they can be sold for a very healthy profit if they don't succeed at Arsenal. The current Arsenal squad is sprinkled with players who have come through from a very young age, or have been scouted from other teams at an age when they can be purchased at a reasonable price. The biggest success of Arsenal's scouting network was probably Cesc Fabregas, but sadly he is no longer at the club.

The move to the Emirates has made the need for youth even more important, and thankfully the system set up by Wenger is paying dividends as players come through to the first team.

Money Making Ability:
During his time at Arsenal Wenger has had the uncanny ability to buy players at a reasonable price and sell them on for a huge profit. Nicholas Anelka was one of the first players that Arsenal made a huge profit on when he was signed for a small fee from Paris Saint Germain, and sold to Real Madrid for over €20 million. Over the years he has been followed by many others who usually thought they were going on to bigger and better things,

The amount of players who have actually gone on to better things has been minimal, as invariably their careers have nose-dived when they left Arsenal. There have been exceptions to that rule, but the profits made from the sales of Anelka, Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Emmanuel Adebayor among others were all great business for Arsenal. He even managed to make a profit on the sales of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira after getting the best years out of them.

This summer Arsenal made huge profits on the sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, but both of those players look likely to have a very bright future in the game. Wenger's ability to correctly reinvest those profits could have a huge bearing on the future of the club, but it will be next January or even next summer when he will get the chance to spend it.

And Finally:
That's what I see as Arsene Wenger's 10 greatest achievements as Arsenal manager, but of course it's only my opinion. I'm sure there will be Arsenal fans and others who agree and disagree with me on many of my points, but I can only call it as I see it. Feel free to point out any glaring omissions or any of my list of achievements which should not be there.

That's it for today.

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  1. Great blog today...I learned a lot being a relatively new fan. For example. I thought it was Wenger who brought in Bergkamp. Oops! Thanks for the historical education :)

  2. Thanks, I think a lot of people would consider Bergkamp an Arsenal signing.

  3. Really enjoyable read, pinned down all his great achievements for us.

  4. god stuff mate, a few of the doomers, mainly fans who glory hunt(rhymes with a word beginning with 'C') who have only supported since the early millennium years, could do with reading this and hitting the f@ck up!

  5. Thanks Rob. It is noticeable that the achievements have died off in the last few years but we have come very close quite a few times since we last won a trophy.