Faith in Wenger pays off for Arsenal
It is hard to imagine just where Arsenal would be now had the club not continued to have complete trust in Arsene Wenger.
The French coach turns 60 tomorrow, when he will address the Annual General Meeting at Emirates Stadium with hopes this season could just be the one where his latest crop of talented youngsters deliver some long-over due silverware.
A lot of humble pie has certainly been eaten since the famous headline "Arsene Who?" greeted the appointment of the then unheralded French coach at Highbury during the autumn of 1996.
Now, of course, Wenger is lauded as one of the best football brains on the planet.
'The Professor', who holds a Masters' Degree in Economics from Strasbourg University, has secured three Premier League titles - including the famous Invincibles campaign of 2003/04 - along with the FA Cup four times and an appearance in the Champions League final three years ago.
Yet for all his success, the last of which came in the shape of the 2005 FA Cup, Wenger feels it is the unwavering faith of the Arsenal board which has allowed him to develop.
"You need to go into clubs where they trust you and let you work and on that front I was very lucky," he said.
Wenger has no intentions of putting his feet up just yet, and indeed feels there is still unfinished business to complete.
The failure of his young side to rise to the challenge against Manchester United in last season's European Cup semi-final continues to rest uneasy on the conscience of the Arsenal manager.
"Losing the semi-final of the Champions League to Manchester United last year was the lowest point, because we did not play at our level," recalled Wenger, who only has the European crown missing from an otherwise near complete CV.
"We have got a young team, which has an average age of 22 or 23, and one which is maturing - even if it can make mistakes like in semi-final of the Champions League.
"What is very disappointing for us, however, is in the games that mattered in the last three or four weeks we could not win.
"That is where we have to analyse."
Wenger, whose side also lost out in the semi-finals of the FA Cup to Chelsea at Wembley, feels he cannot imagine living without football.
The Frenchman is a notorious student of the beautiful game and plans to celebrate his birthday with a nice bottle of red wine while watching a match from the Europa League.
"I would never want to go anywhere else. If I have health, I want to work as long as I live, but adapt to my potential," said Wenger, whose current contract expires in 2011 and was recently targeted by Real Madrid.
"It doesn't always need to be physical work, it can be more intellectual.
"You cannot be 75 on the pitch - although [Giovanni] Trapattoni has done well and he is 70.
"I don't know long I will manage the team.
"From now on I have to assess every two years because this job is hands-on. I am in a job where you always look in front of you.
"Unfortunately, the older you get, the less distance there is in front of you, but football is exciting when you have a team like I have now.
"You know there is potential in this team and it is down to me to get it out."
Wenger added: "I know one day it will happen, but you should not live every day knowing you are going to die - you live knowing that you want to live.
"You will know if you are not hungry enough any more, but other people will tell you if you are not good enough any more."
Wenger's legacy at Emirates Stadium is already secure, with a bronze bust of the Frenchman now in pride of place alongside fellow Arsenal legend Herbert Chapman at the impressive 60,000-seater stadium, into which he had so much influence.
Indeed a fitting venue for his unique brand of passing football, which has written its own chapter in footballing folklore.
"The highest point was to play a whole season unbeaten. No matter how much money anybody else has invested, nobody else has done that," reflected Wenger, who has made a habit out of moulding world-class stars rather than simply just buying them during his 13 seasons at the helm.
It is, though, the way Wenger has become an integral part of the Arsenal psyche which is the most fitting tribute to his service.
"Arsene is someone who is intrinsically entwined in the club," said chief executive Ivan Gazidis.
"It is difficult to imagine Arsenal without him now. He has redefined the way Arsenal thinks about itself."
That, if nothing else, should be worth all Gunners fans raising a glass to tomorrow.