Arsene Wenger celebrates 20 years with Arsenal on Saturday. Nick Miller rounds up the manager’s 10 best moments in two decades with the club.
10. Henry’s first goal versus Southampton
A single goal in a relatively routine league victory might not seem like a highlight of 20 years at a club, but this one was different. One of the great triumphs of Wenger’s reign was the purchase of Thierry Henry from Juventus in 1999, then his subsequent transformation from a flighty, speedy winger into one of the best strikers in the world. Yet in his early days at Arsenal, Henry looked lost, leading author Nick Hornby to wonder if Arsenal had signed “the French Perry Groves.” But after starting his account against Southampton a few weeks into the season, the floodgates opened, and Wenger’s judgement was proved sound.
9. Always finishing above Tottenham
In tangible terms, constantly finishing above one other Premier League team is nothing particularly special and not something to be especially pleased with. But again, this is different: This is Tottenham. For Wenger’s entire time in London, Arsenal have always finished above their local rivals, leading to mirth aplenty on the red side of town and, of course, the ever-popular chant “It’s happened again.” Indeed, since last topping Arsenal in 1995, at some point or another Spurs have finished above every single other team to compete in the top flight. Perhaps the nadir/peak (delete according to allegiance) came last season, when Tottenham were fighting for the title but then collapsed, and Arsenal pipped them to second on the last day. Or perhaps it was 2006 and “Lasagnegate,” when Spurs looked on to finish in the top four only for their stricken side to be overhauled again. If all else fails, there’s always local pride.
8. Thrashing Inter at the San Siro
Arsenal have arguably underperformed in the Champions League under Wenger. Their qualification in so many consecutive years is often held up as a defence of his methods, but one final in 19 attempts isn’t great. Still, they have a few standout, glorious performances under him, perhaps most notably the 1-0 underdog victory over Real Madrid in 2006. But the most devastating of all was the 5-1 hammering of Inter Milan in 2004. Having not won their first three group games (including a 3-0 home loss to Inter), they needed a win in Milan and got one with some gusto. Henry’s opener was cancelled out by Christian Vieri, but a second-half blitz from Edu, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires and Henry again sealed a remarkable win. Arsenal went through, but the result would cost Inter, who drew their final game and were eliminated.
7. The 2014 FA Cup
There’s a very persuasive argument that suggests Wenger should have probably called it a day at Arsenal after this victory. It would have allowed him to go out on a high, winning their first trophy in almost a decade and wrestling a significant monkey from his back. This was a hugely important and arguably quite sentimental victory for Arsenal. At the start, it looked like it might be another calamity, with Arsenal going 2-0 down to Hull inside eight minutes. But Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny heaved them back into contention, and Aaron Ramsey scored an extra-time winner. It could have been a fitting exit, but Wenger is the most stubborn of men. Realistically, it was never going to be.
6. The move to the Emirates
Highbury, with its marble halls and rich history, was a fine ground, but pretty early on, Wenger recognised that to compete financially with the best in England and Europe, they would need something more modern. The Emirates is very much the house that Arsene built, overseen by him and still one of the slickest and most modern stadiums in the country. Perhaps the atmosphere isn’t what it could be, and you could say that paying for the thing hamstrung Arsenal at the worst possible time, but the Emirates will perhaps be Wenger’s most gleaming, tangible legacy.
5. The 1998 Double
Back in the late 1990s, the Double was very much an achievement talked about in hushed tones. Before Manchester United did it in 1994, only five teams had managed to win the FA Cup and the league title in the same season, so for Wenger to manage it in his first full campaign in England was a hugely notable thing indeed. This was Wenger’s first great team, with Marc Overmars tearing down the left, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira establishing themselves as the most fearsome midfield partnership in the league and the old back four still in place. Manchester United were edged out in the league and Newcastle beaten in the cup final, and Wenger was hailed as a revolutionary. He was.
4. The six FA Cup wins
Only two managers have ever won the FA Cup six times: One is George Ramsey, who won it with Aston Villa between 1887 and 1920, and the other is Wenger. He’s rightly proud of his record in the old competition, one area in which he has outdone his fierce rival Alex Ferguson and, well, virtually everyone else who has ever managed in England. From the first win in 1998 to the most recent in 2015, the FA Cup has been a constant in Wenger’s career, and he would have won the thing one more time were it not for Michael Owen’s late intervention in 2001. You can criticise Wenger for many things, but his record in the FA Cup is not one of them.
3. The 2002 Double
Being the first foreign manager to win the double is impressive, but doing it twice is a marvel. This was arguably Wenger’s best side to watch, with Pires at his peak and Henry close to his. The season started in fine style for Gooners everywhere, as Sol Campbell infuriated Spurs fans by moving across north London on a free, and after a so-so opening (Arsenal only won five of their first 12 games and were fifth at the end of November), they went on an incredible post-December tear. Arsenal didn’t lose any of their last 21 games, dropping just six points in the process, and beat Manchester United to the title. Indeed, they sealed it in the perfect manner: Sylvain Wiltord’s goal at Old Trafford confirming Wenger’s second Premier League title, as Ferguson seethed close by.
2. Arsene who?
The unfamiliar is — or perhaps was — often treated with suspicion in English football. So when a Frenchman not many had heard of arrived from Japan, heads were scratched and scorn was poured. “Arsene who?” ran the headline on the back of London’s Evening Standard, an opinion widely held in the days when information about foreign football (Wenger had of course won the French title with Monaco in 1987-88) was much more limited. Wenger proved wrong those who doubted him because of unfamiliarity, and soon enough, everyone knew exactly who he was.
1. The 2004 Invincibles
You can pick holes in the achievement; you can say that plenty of those games were draws, that other teams achieved greater points totals and aren’t as feted. You can say Manchester United’s treble in 1999 was more impressive. But going a full season, 38 league games home and away, without defeat is a most remarkable thing. It started with a 2-1 win at home to Everton and ended with a 2-1 win at home to Leicester, and between those two there were 24 wins, 12 draws, no defeats and some often-astounding football. Perhaps the team of two years earlier were a more exhilarating watch, but the 2004 side will always go down as one of the greatest English football has ever seen.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.