Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Success, failure? The truth is, Wenger has been both at Arsenal

Targets: Arsene Wenger must guide Arsenal to silverware

They would go on to have a solid partnership as assistant and boss and enjoy a friendship that has stood the test of time, but Arsenal legend Pat Rice recalls when Arsene Wenger was appointed manager of the Gunners in 1996, he didn't have a clue who the Frenchman was.

The former Northern Ireland defender was not alone. The headline in the London Evening Standard screamed: Arsene Who?

Eighteen years and 999 games on, everyone knows Wenger now.

Portrayed as a nobody having arrived from Japanese football, it didn't seem to register that previously he had guided Monaco to the French title and a semi-final spot in the Champions League.

Having that on your CV today would guarantee respect. Just goes to show, it wasn't too long ago that many involved in the game on these shores were ignorant of what was happening across the continent. In 2014, everyone, from managers to players to fans know about the gifted 15-year-old with quick feet playing in Bruges or the young boss showing potential in Berne.

Wenger has even more to do with that than the internet!

In many ways he opened the eyes of British football with his fresh ideas, recruitment policies and attractive style of football. As Wenger prepares for his 1000th game as Gunners boss, it's safe to say 'Le Professeur' has taught us a lot.

The Arsenal team in 1996, captained by Tony Adams, refuelled with mars bars, pints in bars and chips, often in bars. Wenger changed their diet, making them fitter, stronger and faster introducing pasta, white meat, vegetables and mineral water.

He wanted to maximise performance not limit it and as a result extended the careers of Adams and others, initially suspicious of the strict regime.

Other English clubs soon followed suit.

When signing players, Wenger was aware of the untapped markets throughout Europe, not least his homeland... in came Patrick Vieira, Emannuel Petit, Nicolas Anelka, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry to complement stars like Dennis Bergkamp already at Highbury. Soon everyone was tapping the French market, and others too.

Wenger, being ahead of the game thanks to an acute instinct for a footballer combined with an astute scouting network, inspired Arsenal to enjoy the most successful era in their history.

They won the title three times (1998, 2002 and 2004) and the FA Cup on four occasions (1998, 2002, 2003, 2005). The magical 'Invincibles' season in 2003/2004, when they were unbeaten in the Premier League, saw Arsenal play football from the gods. 'Boring, Boring Arsenal' became a thing of the past.

The first 10 years under Wenger provided silverware consistently. The last eight, however, have been barren even with the emergence of talented youngsters such as Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.

In recent times a large proportion of Gooners have called for their manager's head. Continuing a long standing feud, earlier this season Jose Mourinho labelled Wenger 'a specialist in failure'.

There can be few greater insults for a manager. Wenger had been verbally slapped by Mourinho before, but never as hard and as brutally as this. He was infuriated, dismissing the claim as garbage.

Arsene's 1000th match as Arsenal boss will be against Mourinho and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. You've gotta love it!

While Arsenal have had no trophies to celebrate since 2005, Chelsea's cabinet has overflowed with Roman Abramovich bankrolling the success. By spending on average around £50 million a season more than Arsenal on transfers in the last decade, the Blues have won the lot, including the Champions League.

In that time the Gunners spent most of their dosh on the spanking new 60,000 Emirates stadium with the manager attempting to develop the kids at the club.

Wenger will say despite those financial sacrifices in terms of buying big time players, the club have always finished in the top four under him and are Champions League regulars.

What he fails to tell you is that during this potless period Birmingham, Wigan and Swansea, hardly big spenders, have all claimed honours.

So, success or failure? Which one is he? Arsene Wenger is actually both... he has succeeded at Arsenal giving fans the greatest team and times in the club's history but he has also failed because not having won anything since 2005 is just not good enough.

I'm all for stability at a club, but when that club is as big as Arsenal it needs to provide silverware.

Wenger should finally savour some this season with an FA Cup triumph and if his side beats Mourinho's men on Saturday, lifting the Premier League title again will become a genuine possibility.

The 64-year-old is in line to land a new contract, but if once again the Gunners fall without picking up a prize, perhaps this grand old man of Arsenal should move on and give someone else a go.

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