18 years and counting… the Arsene Wenger effect

Arsene Wenger was a relatively unkown quantity when he was named Arsenal’s permanent boss in October 1996.

The Frenchman had enjoyed some success at Ligue 1 side Monaco before arriving in England but its his achievements in the Premier League that have not only come as a surprise to many, but also changed both Arsenal and the England’s top flight for the better.

He won a famous Double in his first full season in charge of the Gunners, emphatically coming from 11 points behind leaders Manchester United to take the league title before winning the FA Cup a couple of weeks later.

Nobody knew it then, but Wenger’s success that year would be the first footstep towards Arsenal’s establishment as one of England’s most successful football teams. Wenger was a new breed of manager that our shores hadn’t seen before.

He wanted to play a huge part in every aspect of the way Arsenal was run and the success during his first full season at the club was the result of a complete overhaul of how his players lived their lives both on and off the pitch.

He implemented new training regimes, specific dietary programs and was very thorough in the way he built his squad. The likes of Thierry Henry Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Marco Overmars arrived at the club unknown players but went on to become imperative to the trophies and achievements Arsenal enjoyed during their time in north London.

But amidst the three Premier League titles, five FA Cup triumphs and five Community Shield wins, as well as steering the Gunners to a Champions League final in 2006, it was the way in which he masterminded Arsenal’s unbeaten Premier League campaign in 2003/2004 that perhaps remains his biggest achievement to date.

Arsenal become the first team to go an entire season unbeaten since Preston North End in the 19th Century, and it came off the back of a disappointing end to the season before, where they handed Manchester United the league title after losing at home to Leeds.

Wenger’s team continued that unbeaten season in to the following campaign and ended up beating Nottingham Forest’s record of 42 games unbeaten, which had stood for 26 years. The Gunners’ run was ended at 49 games without loss when they suffered defeat at Old Trafford against Man United.

The Invinbles completed such a feat whilst playing an attractive, attacking and easy on the eye style of football that Wenger became so famous for implementing upon his arrival at the club. Pundit Alan Hansen once described that team as “quite simply the most fluid, devastating team the British Isles has seen,” and you won’t find many people prepared to disagree with him.

Over the last 18 years Wenger has become Arsenal’s most successful and important manager. He arrived as nobody, but he will eventually leave as a legend.

Some will say his Arsenal career has been one of two-halves. The first delivered trophies, records and goal scoring greats in the shape of Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp, et al. The second has been more of a struggle, and he only managed to put an end to a nine year trophy drought by winning the FA Cup last season.

But he will always be remembered for his success rather than his failures. As things stand, there isn’t a Premier League team that can boast going an entire season unbeaten and has managed to finish in the top four for 18 consecutive seasons.

That kind of success needs a genius to oversee and achieve. And Le Profeseur was that genius.