Believe it or not, today marks an incredible 18 years since Arsene Wenger first turned up in north London dressed like a school teacher way back in 1998. Indeed, quite remarkably, if the Frenchman’s Arsenal career were a living person, they would now be legally allowed to drink.
On the way there have been enormous highs and inevitable lows, with dull moments few and far between. So to celebrate the anniversary of the Gunners gaffer’s monolithic Premier League spell, winning three titles and five FA Cups, here’s a look at Arsenal’s 18 most defining moments under Wenger.
He however, will be more focused on his side’s Champions League clash with Galatasaray this evening.
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Arsene Wenger wasn’t officially appointed Arsenal manger until September 30th, 1996. But in August that year, murmurings of his future presence were enough to convince AC Milan midfielder Patrick Vieira to join the club.
The retired Gunners icon later revealed; “I am delighted to be joining Arsenal at the same time as Mr Wenger becomes their coach. Being able to speak French to him will make life a lot easier for me.”
The £3.5million signing’s power, strength and quality went on to underpin Arsenal’s midfield for the best part of the next decade, being named captain in 2002 and winning seven trophies with the north Londoners.
Vieira’s arrival also set a new precedent of young, high-potential, foreign signings that not only came to dictate Arsenal’s future transfer policy, but much of the Premier League’s.
When Bruce Rioch was sacked as Arsenal boss in 1996, the bookies made former Barcelona manager Johan Cruyff the favourite to take over at Highbury.
So when Arsene Wenger, a manager who had spent the last few years in Japan’s top flight, arrived in north London dressed like a maths teacher, the British public, and particularly the British press, were in a state of shock.
The Evening Standard ran with the headline ‘Arsene Who?’, but within the next few years, Wenger’s views on transfer policy, diet, philosophy and fitness had revolutionised the English game.
It took Arsene Wenger two years to claim his first trophy as Arsenal boss, but when he did, it was in emphatic style.
A 4-0 thumping of Everton at the end of the 1997/98 Premier League season secured the Gunners their first league title since 1991. It was soon followed up by an FA Cup haul via a 2-0 victory over Newcastle at the old Wembley. This was only the second double in Arsenal’s history.
Eyebrows were raised when Arsene Wenger splashed out £11million on Thierry Henry back in 1999, breaking Arsenal’s club-record transfer fee. But under the Le Professeur’s leadership, the France international soon emerged as one of the most prolific strikers in world football and Premier League history.
Including a seven-game loan stint during the 2011/12 season, Henry’s Arsenal career ended with 228 goals and 93 assists in 376 appearances, winning the Premier League’s golden boot four times in the space of five seasons between 2001 and 2006.
He’s currently fourth in the Premier League’s all-time top scorer rankings, and the leading goal scorer in Arsenal’s history. Not bad for £11million.
A defining moment that will likely slip under the radar, but remains as intrinsic as any other in Arsenal’s successes under Wenger.
The year 2000 marked a vital philosophical shift for the north London club; rugged left-back Nigel Winterburn was sold to West Ham and replaced by youth product Ashley Cole, previously a left-forward for the academy team.
Likewise, £7million signing Lauren joined the Arsenal ranks from Mallorca to take the reins from Lee Dixon at No.2, despite being more commonly regarded as a central midfielder at the time.
Both Cole and Lauren offered the Gunners a more athletic, marauding presence and greater control of possession, forming two crucial tactical pillars that would underpin ‘The Invincibles’ side in the campaigns to come.
It would also begin a school of thought that continues today, where full-backs are viewed from a tactical perspective as amongst the most important players on the pitch.
Perhaps the most controversial Premier League transfer of all time, and undoubtedly one of the best value-for-money acquisitions in Arsenal’s history.
In 2001, Arsenal were on the hunt for a new centre-back, with club captain Tony Adams edging closer towards retirement.
Wenger found a solution from an incredibly unlikely source – local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Their lynchpin defender, Sol Campbell, had just left the club on a free transfer after being advised by then-England manager Sven Goran Eriksen to find a new club with Champions League football.
Labelled ‘Judas’ by Spurs fans, Campbell’s short move across north London is still a sore spot today. It worked out well for the centre-back though; he spent five years with Arsenal, winning two Premier League titles and playing in the 2006 Champions League final.
In 2002, Arsene Wenger masterminded Arsenal’s way to their second Premier League title under his management, finishing seven points clear of second-place Liverpool – one of the biggest margins in the competition’s history. The domestic title was secured with a historic 1-0 win over reigning champions Manchester United at Old Trafford – courtesy of this goal from Sylvain Wiltord:
And just like the first, it was quickly followed by a Wembley celebration as the Gunners beat Chelsea 2-0 at the Millennium Stadium.
Unquestionably the most defining moment of Arsene Wenger’s managerial career – claiming the 2003/04 Premier League title without losing a single fixture.
Indeed, the Arsenal side, including the likes of Jens Lehmann, Lauren, Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva, Freddy Ljungberg, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, went 49 consecutive league fixtures undefeated, becoming forever-known throughout the annals of English football as simply ‘The Invincibles’.
They trumped Nottingham Forest’s unbeaten record from the 1980s by seven fixtures, but the Gunners’ run was eventually ended with a controversial 2-0 defeat to Manchester United.
Little did Arsenal fans know however, this would become their club’s last league title to date under Wenger.
If you have a spare one-and-a-half hours, here’s all the goals from Arsenal’s 49-game streak:
Indeed, it seemed in ‘The Invincibles’, the Premier League had met its new dominant force. But another power was quickly emerging on the English scene – Chelsea, backed by Roman Abramovich’s oil billions and masterminded by manager Jose Mourinho.
Polar opposites in personality and philosophy, Le Professeur and ‘The Special One’ quickly found themselves at odds. Their rivalry’s most controversial moment came in 2005, when the Chelsea boss described his Gunners counterpart as ‘a voyeur’.
Chelsea’s emergence ended Arsenal’s stranglehold of the table’s summit as they went on to claim consecutive league titles under Mourinho. And to date, Wenger is yet to beat the Portuguese in a Premier League fixture.
In 2005, Arsene Wenger came under huge criticism from the British press for fielding the first all-foreign match day squad in the history of the Premier League.
Indeed, the Invincibles side that had previously demolished the Premier League contained just two home-grown representatives – Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell. It defined how Arsenal had branched away from their English roots under Wenger, embracing talents, ideas and philosophies from abroad.
The Frenchman was even accused of racism. But he hit back, quipping to journalists; ” I don’t look at the passport of people, I look at their quality and their attitude.”
Arsenal’s grip on the Premier League may started to wane but the trophies continued. In 2005, Arsene Wenger claimed his third FA Cup in the space of four years, winning the Wembley final against Manchester United 5-4 on penalties.
This would prove to be Arsenal’s last trophy however, for the best part of the next decade.
Arsenal’s aesthetic football has never quite transitioned to the European scene. But the closest they’ve come to success on the continent under Wenger was in 2006, when the Gunners met Barcelona in the Champions League final.
Despite losing ‘keeper Jens Lehmann to a red card in the 18th minute, Arsenal took the lead through a Sol Campbell header. But the numerical advantage eventually told, as the Catalans netted twice in the last 15 minutes to claim a 2-1 win.
Sour grapes for Wenger, but that trophy proved to be the dawn of a new era at Barcelona. They went on to win two more Champions League titles in the next five years, becoming remembered in the history books as arguably the greatest club side of all time.
The start of the 2006/07 season saw Arsenal move into a new home, swapping the ageing Highbury for the modern 60,000 capacity Emirates stadium.
Arsene Wenger described it as ‘the biggest decision in Arsenal’s history’, and debt payments on the new ground would limit the Gunners gaffer’s spending power for the many years to come – not that he ever needed an excuse to count the pennies.
To honour the grand opening, Wenger, David Dein and many of Arsenal’s players were invited to Buckingham Palace to attend afternoon tea with the Queen.
Truly the end of an era for Arsenal fans, in 2007, the club said goodbye to iconic striker and all-time top goal scorer Thierry Henry.
The year previous, infamous Spanish prankster ‘Jimmy Jump’ threw a Barcelona shirt at the striker with ‘Henry, 14’ printed on the back during a Champions League clash with Villarreal.
His prophecy soon proved true, and the La Liga giants splashed out €24million on the France international, ending his eight-year stay with the Gunners.
In 2008, Henry was voted the most important player in Arsenal’s history by a fan’s poll, and he returned to the club during the 2011/12 campaign, on loan from MLS side New York Red Bulls.
Arsene Wenger’s five-year plan envisaged a cycle of talented young players that would eventually go on to rival the quality and efficiency of ‘The Invincibles’.
But the players weren’t singing from the same hymn sheet and from 2011 to 2012, the Gunners were forced to surrender many of their top talents to rival clubs.
Following Kolo Toure’s move two years’ previous, Manchester City lured Sami Nasri and Gael Clichy to the Etihad in summer 2011, whilst club captain Cesc Fabregas returned to boyhood club Barcelona in a €35million deal.
A year later, Robin van Persie, after claiming consecutive Premier League golden boots with Arsenal, refused to sign a new contract and was resultantly sold to Manchester United.
Wenger was forced to rebuild from the ground up.
After several years of dormancy at the elite end of the transfer market, Arsenal erupted in summer 2013 with a club-record £42million move for Real Madrid playmaker Mesut Ozil.
It was the marquee signing supporters had demanded for seasons and marked the end of Wenger’s penny-pinching recruitment methods, with the debts of the Emirates stadium fully paid.
Previously, Arsenal’s transfer record was a mere £16million, spent on Russian international Andrei Arshavin in 2009. And before that, it had remained at just £13million for eight-and-a-half-years, harking back to Syvlain Wiltord’s arrival in 2001.
In March this year, Arsene Wenger reached his 1,000th game in charge of the north London club; a sensational landmark in a Premier League climate where the average management tenure is just over one season.
At the time, his win record for the Gunners was at an impressive 57.3%, even bettering Sir Alex Ferguson’s return after 1,000 games at Manchester United.
An old nemesis was out to destroy the party however – Chelsea, reinvigorated by the return of Jose Mourinho, recorded a 6-0 thumping over the Gunners.
Pressure was building on Wenger as the 2013/14 season drew to a climax. Arsenal had led the Premier League table for 128 days, but their title charge corroded during the campaign’s final run-in, exacerbating concerns that the club hadn’t won a trophy for nine years.
To make matters worse, Wenger was yet to sign a new contract, and in truth, if the Gunners had lost to Hull City in the 2014 FA Cup final, the Frenchman would unlikely still be Arsenal boss.
But the north Londoners clawed their way back from a 2-0 deficit to trump the Tigers 3-2 after extra time, the deciding goal coming from Arsenal’s Player of the Season, Aaron Ramsey:
It extinguished a dark cloud that had been lingering over Arsenal for nearly a decade, and reaffirmed beliefs that Arsene Wenger was still the right man to take the club forward.