Wenger is turning 20

Good morning everyone.

On September 22nd, 1996 Arsene Wenger was unveiled as the new Arsenal manger. He officially took over the club nine days later on October 1st and has remained in the post since.

Love him or not, Wenger has had a profound effect on English football. He changed the way that the game was managed, the way players were scouted, the way the English teams looked at foreign players, and the way the game was played. He didn’t go out and teach every team in England about nutrition or about how to find exceptional value in the foreign transfer market but rather through his work and his success showed English football an alternative path. A path which the game has embraced with fervor.

And love him or not, Wenger has radically changed Arsenal football club. He ushered in the modern era at Arsenal, winning trophies, and perhaps his most lasting legacy — moving Arsenal from Highbury to the Grove.

I happen to love Arsene Wenger. I have never made any secret about that. I know he has flaws and I’m not afraid to talk about them when they drive me crazy. But it’s true what Elie Wiesel once said that the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. And it’s also true what my friend Chris Foutz once said that the root of anger and frustration is always unmet expectations. And finally, it’s true what I always say that when we criticize others we are really projecting out our own insecurities.*

So, over the next nine days I’m thinking about three pieces. The first covers Wenger in his own words. I already have a huge database of Wenger quotes and what I will do is put together a “Footballistically Speaking” post that I think best reflects his career. If you would like to contribute a quote below, please do. I only ask that you source the quote because I always need the context in order to make the quote work.

The second is going to be a post about “matches which changed Arsenal under Wenger.” I have several off the top of my head, ones that are meaningful to me. But if you would like to contribute some thoughts on that topic, please do in the comments below. Pick any match from the last 20 years.

And finally, I have a huge database of stats from Wenger’s career. If I have time, I might make a post about that. Honestly the remarkable thing about Wenger has been his stability. It’s kind of boring but he’s been very stable throughout his career as Arsenal manager and I might write something about that. I don’t know, if I have time. If not, then maybe some other time!

That’s what’s going on this week.


*I’m not suggesting that Chris and I are of the intellectual level of Elie Wiesel but rather that these are just three facets of love, hate, anger, frustration, and criticism that I tend to agree with.


  1. Arsenal 5 – 3 Middlesborough, late 2004, as the embodiment of the style and verve of the Invincibles.

  2. *The* game where Rooney dived. The other teams followed manure’s lead and started kicking lumps out of Arsenal. The refs allowed them. What would Wenger’s later record have looked like otherwise?

    I feel dirty now.

    1. The FA Cup final. For me, personally, it felt like a passing of the baton, a coming of age performance and our midfielders (Aaron specially) moving out of Cesc’s shadow and becoming a leader in his own right. (Yes, I love the lad and say what you will of his performances, he never hides, and despite all the stick he got, proved himself after a horrific injury and got the monkey of our backs. In some ways, that resurgence is akin to Wenger’s resurgence in the 2 FA Cup winning seasons – and one which will hopefully continue and get us major honours).

      Arsenal 3-0 ManU last season, then the the one with the Welbeck winner in our FA Cup run, and beating City at the Etihad with the massive Coqzorla performance also come to mind.

      Paris 2006 as well, that one still pains. Should’ve won it. Should’ve… ;(

      1. When you mentioned Paris, my heart struck a beat. Still hurts. Those Henry misses, the ref getting the red card wrong, Henrik Larson showing up when I was afraid of Ronaldinho, Eto’o’s offside winner…

  3. One of the biggest games I can think of in the past few years was the semifinal against Wigan, where Mertesacker scored and we won on penalties.

    It was so close to a loss. If Mertesacker had not put that in…

    1. The third goal in this game from the king made sure that I remained gooner forever. Arsenal 4-2 Liverpool.

  4. “Buying Barry or Alonso is killing Alexandre Song, Abou Diaby and Denilson.”

    Because that was the first time I thought heard Wenger say completely nonsensical. However, as I later realized, there were more complex layers behind that quote. The obvious one is that we were under severe financial constraint – but it was also an indication of how invested he was in the project youth. It also made me realize that despite his intelligence he isn’t immune from saying something daft, at least in appearance, if it implies taking a higher moral ground or him sticking to his principles.

  5. Wenger managed one of the greatest football teams ever to have existed. So balanced. And they never even threatened to do well in Europe. And so his career at arsenal had that early failing run through right up to today. It must be so painful for him. Especially when he came close to building a similarly impressive side, only for it to be pulled apart during the dawn of the super agent, and players chasing enormous salaries.

    Wenger’s reign of Arsenal could easily be rewritten as a Greek tragedy, that’s why it’s so appealing.

  6. The game against Spurs won 5-4, season 04/05. I was keen on Arsenal since 2000 when as 8 year Old I was awestruck by some French gentelmen during Euro 2000. Then I watched Arsenal occasionally, riding a bike or being driven to my Grandad who possessed priceless tv Channel with Premiership games. I got some flashes of greatness of Invincibles season but the match that made me love Arsenal forever, The moment I felt something that made me bound to this Club was this Victory over Tottenham.
    And so my life was somehow changed since Lauren executed penalty perfectly

  7. I think it would be really cool to pick 20 games then rewatch them as a group this summer. It would give us something to talk about other than the incessant onanism of window-gazing.

  8. The one nil win at Old Trafford in season ’07/08 courtesy of a late Adebayor goal. That particular Wenger squad, shorn of virtually all vestiges of the Invincibles, had the potential to be his greatest side. They played an unbelievably high-tempo intricate passing game and should’ve wrestled the league title back from Mourinho’s Chelsea. Arsenal lost just thrice that season, two of those coming from April against Man U and Chelsea with an unfortunate Champions’League q-final ouster to Liverpool around the same time as Wenger’s young and thin squad ran out of legs, especially the over-worked Adebayor. RVP’s perennial injury problems, Eduardo’s tragic leg break and Rosicky’s first major injury absence all conspired to leave the Gunners potless in May. If that first iteration of ‘Project Youth’ had won the league, as they really should’ve if Wenger had bought attacking back-up for Adebayor, the course of Arsenal history would’ve changed dramatically even with the financial constraints that attended the stadium move…

    1. Had we won in 2008, it would’ve been another feather in our cap, a memorable season and happy inoguration of Emirates. But a single league title would not shift the balance of power in our favor away from vastly more resourced clubs in the era of limitless spending. The title wouldn’t have increased revenue or stopped richer clubs from signing better players while we tried to bring through propects, suffering their growing pains. The title wouldn’t have granted Nasri, Hleb, Adebayor and Fabregas the salary or notoriety that they coveted, nor would it have obviated the financial need to generate income from player sales. It would not have prevented the woeful injury record or taught Clichy and Sagna how to cross. Much like Leicester, we’d have basked in the glow for a while but it would never have lasted.

      1. Those are possible scenarios. However, it is also possible that if we had won in 2007/08, the key elements of Project Youth would’ve acquired a winning mentality and been tempted to hang in there a bit longer even in the hard times. Ultimately, it was the sustained lack of success, which was mentally excruciating even for the fans, that made it easier for many members of that cast to leave. That and the higher wages available elsewhere. Coming to the issue of wages, I don’t think the greater finances of our competitors necessarily meant that we couldn’t have won the league at least twice in the last twelve years. For instance, Athletico have challenged the Real-Barca duopoly quite creditably in the last five years, just as Valencia did in the early noughties under Rafa Benitez, despite the huge financial inequality between the Big Two and the rest of La Liga. It’s harder, yes, but it can be done. With greater squad depth, and better fitness practices to stave off the patented March-April Arsenal injury crisis, Wenger could really have delivered at least two more EPL titles since the last stand of the Invincibles.

        1. You left out luck. To win against the odds, like Leicester did last season, requires a strategic advantage, hard work and a healthy dose of luck. It might have encouraged Cesc, Nasri and the skunk to commit themselves to the Arsenal much in the way Vardy and Mahrez did. Though I guess we won’t know how committed Mahrez is until 2018

  9. I look forward to the Footballistically Speaking article, which you MUST
    write. Wenger said so many things in these 20 years, some philosophically, some plain nonsensically. It would be fun to revisit them…

  10. Tim, you mention Arsene’s unbelievable consistency in your piece. I wonder how much of that has been a kind of double edged sword. As you say it can even seem boring. Sometimes I think if we’d spent more of his tenure up and down the league like most other teams then people would be inclined to be less critical of him in a way.

    It’s the consistency of his finishes I think that can drive us insane, even though most will admit that finishing 4th, which is the worst we’ve done under him, isn’t terrible in and of itself. But when you’re only ever changing league position by one or two places it’s easy to feel like nothing’s changing. We’ve so little room for improvement league wise that the only finishing position that makes any real difference to us is 1st place. Anything less is seen as just more of the same.

    He’s been so consistent that many fans have been convinced that 4th place is now our birthright in some way, a kind of ‘worse case scenario’, as opposed to something that has to be achieved from scratch year after year.

    In a way his consistency is probably both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.

  11. You know, if one actually thinks with a calm mind Arsene Wenger has been terribly unlucky atnthe most pivotal moments of his career.

    2006 CL final
    Lehman red carded when eto(i think) was offside. (No evidence is available now. Surprise!)

    2007 Carling Cup Final
    Losing to Chelsea

    2008 PL
    Horrific Eduardo injury

    2008 CL
    I will never forget the home leg. Refree denied a clear penaly on Kuyt. Bendtner saved the Fabregase inevitable goal. That was actual wtf match.

    2009 CL semi
    Gibbs slipping. Slipping goddamnit to handover the advantage to Utd.

    2011 CL
    Arsene showed he can play bloody defense so well only for cesc fabregase to backpass to a barcelona player which lead to goal.
    RVP sent off for god knows why while Barcelona players were still on the pitch. Bendtner missing that glorious chance.

    2011 Carling Cup
    That mix up between Kos and Sczesney.

    2011 PL
    It promised so much and left Arsenenso so broken and took literally life out of him.

    Whether one likes or not or whether one admits or not. Luck plays its part. In a highly competitive sport margin of error is so small that luck plays even bigger part.

    And dont tell me referees werent biased in favor of Ferguson. Don’t.

    1. I agree, especially on the referee part. If everyone from players to referees to pundits hadn’t decided after that United game that it was completely fine to kick the Arsenal players all over the pitch with almost impunity I’d think we’d have one or two extra titles easily.

  12. This categorically NOT my favorite quote because there are far more eloquent, wittier and wiser things he’s said over 20 years but you’ve said the idea of your Footbalistically Speaking “Wenger in His Own Words” piece is to use quotes that you feel reflect his career.

    In that vein the quote I’m thinking about is for me, quite evocative of the last 10 Wenger years: some of the inexplicable losses, injury-riddled seasons, confusing results and biased refereeing fall under this quote.

    It was April 2008 and we were in Anfield, seven minutes away from advancing to the semi-finals on the away goals rule after making the score 2-2 on the night, but we went out 5-3 on aggregate after two late by the Scousers.

    One was the hugely controversial penalty for a tug on Ryan Babel by Kolo Toure that Steven Gerrard put away for Liverpool to go 3-2 ahead with five minutes to play.

    After the penalty, Ryan Babel scored again in stoppage-time to make it 4-2. He said a bunch of stuff afterwards but here finally is the quote whcih still resonates with me:

    “Sometimes you have to swallow the unswallowable.”

    “We had so much control but we were naive and we lacked a bit defensively,” Wenger added.
    Also In Sports News

    Mourinho hits out at ‘Einsteins’ for criticism
    Police never contacted me over tickets, says Delaney

    “The defeat was not down to mental strength though, it was down to a lack of experience defensively. We made big mistakes and we conceded a goal from a corner and on the second goal we gave Fernando Torres too much room.”

    Arsenal have now won just two of their last 12 games and only have the Premier League title to chase. They are six points behind leaders Manchester United with five games to play.

    Wenger believes a series of poor decisions and injuries to key players have affected his side.

    “The team is sick. We feel everything is going against us. We lacked that extra bit of confidence because week after week there is more disappointment,” he grumbled.

  13. For a whole bunch of reasons

    ‘Everyone thinks that they have the prettiest wife at home’

    This has the best description

    Let me count the ways
    We were about to secure a second double (the quote is from the press conference before the cup final)
    We won league in Manchester
    Demento had to have it explained to him when he thought Wenger was insulting his wife. Ok so Wenger’s education far outstrips demento but Wenger bemused demento whilst speaking a foreign language
    We were by far the better team that year
    Have I mentioned we won the league in Manchester

    As for matches from the same season Lauren rolling the pen in to win the NLD that kept the winning run going that lead to the title. I was in the West Upper looking down on the great unwashed in the Clock End and oh did it feel good

  14. Paris
    Look at that back 4, and at the time that team held the record for longest stretch without conceding in CL history.
    RVP getting Fifalona’d out so they could advance.

  15. Memorable matches all came with 4 goals. Arshavin’s four against Liverpool. The utterly demoralising 4-4 with Newcastle after being up 4-zip, encapsulated everything about Wenger’s time — bad luck, bad ref calls, injury, glorious bursts of goalscoring, glorious collapse. And the 4-4 in which an Arsenal moulded player, David Bentley, delivered the killing blow.

    Like you, Tim, I love Arsene Wenger. Same as I love dear old Uncle Vernon, but I would be relieved to see leave before he breaks something. That moment when we went two down in the FA Cup final against Hull, when he looked gaunt, haunted and beaten, and it seemed the fans were poised to deliver the killer blow to his reign — I felt very happy for him when we won it. The sight of him being hoisted aloft, and his shirt drenched with champagne, brought tears to my eyes. Because I realised that much as I wanted him gone, I did not want him gone that way. Make no mistake, he was very close. Still, I haven’t changed my view that his best days were in the first 10 years of his tenure, and the move from Highbury to the Emirates.

    Great manager (our greatest ever), who will have his own statue outside the stadium. I enjoyed watching him rattle Alex Ferguson in the early days. Bold, unafraid, and thrillingly successful, with footballers of dash and imagination like Overmars, Vieira and Anelka. I can’t believe what he did to Tony Adams technically, when the widely held view was that he was a big English donkey incapable of sophistication. He gave Adams another lease on life.

    Fergie reacted with aggression and scorn. Later, when he had completely dominated Wenger fora long period, it changed to something approaching pity. Which brings us to Wenger’s failures, one of which was a total swing of the pendulum towards United. One of the reasons losing to them lat season generated so much anger was that for the first time in a long time, things seemed to be in our favour, and we still screwed it up. Same with Mourinho. Wenger had never beaten him in the league, even when we’ve had the better and more in-form team. His recent teams seem to freeze tactically or temperamentally when faced with these challenges, and that’s on him.

    The Invincibles, great as they undoubtedly were, never really threatened in Europe, a noteworthy shortfall. Even in Paris in post-Invincibles 2006, our best chance for the CL trophy, we’re engaging in revisionism when we argue that but fora kind ref, we had it locked against Barcelona. We didn’t. They were the far better team for huge swathes, although yes, Lehman’s red card and the his replacement by Almunia swung the game. How we always look like second class citizens against the very best in Europe (with 2 or 3 thrilling exceptions), is another significant failing by Wenger.

    All in all, though, a tremendous manager and an even better man.

    1. Well said, especially the bit about Paris 2006 and European failure.
      But a part of me (a crazy part, admittedly), wants to reply: who’s to say the best isn’t still to come???

    2. If you re-watch that final in Paris you’ll see that we started very much on the front foot with Henry looking particularly inspired. We’d created the more dangerous offensive plays until Lehmann’s sending off. We were then forced to sacrifice Pires in order to bring on Almunia. Still, we went ahead when Eboue,rascal that he was,conned the ref into giving a phantom free-kick which thundered in off the head of Solid Sol. Barca’s subsequent dominance, mostly of possession with Almunia making a couple of good saves, was inevitable. And yet, King Henry had that glorious one-on-one with Valdes that should’ve put us 2-0 up and he missed. I still have nightmares of that miss! The rest, as they say,is history. There was a heavy dose of bad luck involved in that tragic Paris final. In spite of Barca’s star-studded cast, that game could’ve gone either way.

  16. The 7-1 win over Everton in 2005 was the greatest football I had ever seen any team play. That was to me the height of Wengerball. I was watching it live from Malaysia, alone at 3am in the morning in a lazy, sleepy, almost empty 24 hour cafe. Maybe to begin with, I was already in a spiritual/philosophical state of mind, but I remember thinking to myself that this was how football, or sport, made relevant metaphysical sense: poetry, beauty, art, truth in motion. To me, Wenger’s platitudes about being a “facilitator to bring out the beauty in men” (or something like that) made actual sense when watching that match. And I for one, really trully believe that Wenger is/was serious whenever he implies that that is what he cares more about than winning trophies. Because without beauty everything else is an illusion, which is the opposite of reality. Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth.

  17. The 3-2 win over Hull in the FA cup final 3 seasons ago. And the precise moment is when Santi stood over that free kick at 2-0 down (almost 3 down apart from an off the line clearance).

    That is the scene for the opening shot of the eventual movie of the Wenger years. That moment. Wenger looking on knowing if that free kick doesn’t go in, he will resign at the end of the game and the second half of his Arsenal years came to nothing. That all the sacrifice ended in Wembley by Steve Bruce’s Hull City Tigers or whatever they’re called…

    I was there, holding my breadth at that exact moment. Everything that comes now is a result of the eventual winning of that game, and that trophy. If we win the EPL this season that will be the opening sequence to the eventual cathartic ending of the Wenger years. imho…

  18. I distinctly remember the feeling of one of the Chelsea games we lost during Mourinho’s first stint, I think Robben absolutely tore into us and we couldn’t get going at all, that was the match where I thought ‘shit, we’re really not the best team around any more, and that might be the case for a while’. It’s maybe something that felt more like a turning of my opinion about Arsenal, rather than a match that changed Arsenal, but it’s stuck in my memory, and rankled a little, over the years.

  19. That one one nil win was in 06/07 season. I remember the match vividly, it was really an impressive display on the day, out foxed Man Utd at Old Trafford. I remember Lehmann pulling off a spectacular save from Solksjaer. Then the brilliant 07/08 season, we were sensational that season, but the well came off at Birmingham after Eduardo’s injury. I guess we lacked the mental strength to see it through.. Oh my Arsenal memories!!

  20. The 4-0 against Everton.

    Steve Bould lofting the ball over the Everton defense for Tony Adams to run on and smash the ball into the back of the net on the bounce to win the league.

    If that’s not Wengerball I don’t know what is.

  21. I have two sources of regret with respect to Arsene’s tenure and ironically both came in the era where Wenger was at his best.

    Firstly was the 1999 final of the equivalent of the Europa League losing to Galatasary in overtime. It would have been a great way to wrap up a decade with 2 League titles, 2 FA cups, a League Cup, but crucially two European trophies. One of the constants in Wenger’s era is that our teams have struggled in European competitions despite ripping it up domestically, and a victory then would have given that team validation to further better performances in subsequent years. Also winning an European trophy in a year when United won the treble would have given motivation for Wenger to close the gap on Ferguson.

    2004, Champions League quarterfinals: Arsenal vs Chelsea at Highbury. To me, this is the greatest ‘what if?’ of Wenger’s time. Not only because by defeating Chelsea, we would enter the semis as the strongest, not just among the four teams in the competition, but of all Europe. But also, by winning the CL, we would have nipped the Jose Mourinho story in the bud. Suddenly, neither Chelsea nor Mourinho are the great sells, Roman Abrahomovic chooses to buy an inferior Tottenham side as opposed to the league runners up Chelsea, Maureen doesnt get his England move, Tottenham struggle to attract quality players and are stuck below in the table, as Ferguson and Arsene exchange titles. Both teams also win one more CL each.(Arsenal 2006, United 2008)

    It didn’t stop Arsenal moving to the Emirates. But with Chelsea not overpaying for players good enough for Arsenal/ Man United, the talent gap between the two and the rest widens. Arsenal’s kids go on and win the 2008 PL, having retained/bought experience in the key positions. Foreign investors would still come into the League, but Roman’s failure at Spurs prevents the rise of a ‘Man City’,with ridiciolous prices for decent players, thereby making the PL more like a La Liga, a duopoly.

    Eventually Wenger’s insistence on replicating Barcelona style football fails him as he only won the league twice since 2008 (2010,2012). And Ferguson does bring Liverpool off ther f**king perch, with United at 19 titles to Liverpool’s 18.

    However, the two teams never won a Champions League again, with United last winning in 2008. The rise of Guardiola ensured that both Ferguson and Wenger would be tactically found out in Europe, with Ferguson’s 442 and Wenger’s tiki tala failing to match the genius of Messi and co.

    2013: It was a big occasion. Not one, but two of English football’s finest managers decided to hang up their boots. Years of intense rivalry between the two have sapped a lot of energy out of them, and even Wenger, the man obsessed with football, has had it, and both hand the baton over to two experienced continental managers. Ferguson had the last laugh that year, making it his 13th title to Wenger’s 8. But supporters pointed out that Wenger had successfully made the transistion to a new stadium with such ease, that even Arsenal didn’t expect. They built on the spine of Fabregas and Van Persie, with star players mostly staying at Arsenal despite
    Lower wages than their United counterparts ( Adebayor and Nasri having left). And with the years of austerity over, the new manager of Arsenal would have the funds to buy top players when needed and offer them good money. So some argued that Arsenal were in a better position.

    in the end, the extra money coming from the TV deals due to United and Arsenal’s fans benefitted the teams below. With both clubs in transition, Chelsea and Liverpool emerged from the shadows, and bought good managers and players and even won a title apiece. United and Arsenal were still in the mix, but it was much harder than before to win titles.

    Some may think that I am deluded in thinking that one game would cause so much change in fortunes for Arsene and the club. Some may argue that this is all hypothetical, which I concede. but the least that could have happened is that Arsene would atleast have landed a CL in a year where they were the best in Europe, bar none.

    In reality, we got knocked out at Higbury by an away goal from f**king Wayne Bridge.

Comments are closed.

Related articles