The Wenger Years

Arsene Wenger

Short-term tenures for Stewart Houston and Bruce Rioch followed George Graham’s departure but Arsenal were still in need of a long-term answer.

This would be emphatically delivered in the form of a relatively unknown Frenchman who would change the Club forever.

Arsène Wenger arrived at Highbury in October 1996 after notable success at Monaco and a stint in charge of Japanese side Grampus Eight. He was the Club’s first boss from outside the UK.

Arsenal finished third that season but the new manager would officially announce his arrival in his first full campaign at the helm. At one stage in 1997/98 the Gunners trailed leaders Manchester United by 11 points. However, imperious form throughout the second half of the campaign saw Arsenal crowned Premier League champions with two games to spare. Within two weeks, the Gunners had added the FA Cup, securing the Double in Wenger’s first full season in charge.

As well as transforming Arsenal on the pitch, the new manager set about revolutionising his players’ lives away from the pitch, implementing cutting-edge training regimes and dietary systems. The Frenchman was meticulous in his squad construction, adding the likes of Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars to a team already boasting Arsenal institutions like David Seaman, Tony Adams and Dennis Bergkamp.

Another Highbury stalwart who continued to flourish under Wenger was Ian Wright. Already closing in on Cliff Bastin’s all-time goalscoring record when the Frenchman arrived, Wright finally scored his magical 179th goal against Bolton Wanderers on September 13, 1997. In the end, perhaps Wenger’s finest signing to date – Thierry Henry - would eclipse Wright’s tally a little over eight years later.

"As well as transforming Arsenal on the pitch, the new manager set about revolutionising his players’ lives away from the pitch, implementing cutting-edge training regimes and dietary systems."

Henry signed in August 1999, after Arsène Wenger’s side had been denied back-to-back titles by one point by Manchester United in the previous May. At first, the Frenchman’s ability to adapt to the rough-and-tumble of the Premier League was questioned, but after failing to score in his first eight games, the former Juventus star plundered an impressive 26 goals that term. Final defeats in the 2000 Uefa Cup and 2001 FA Cup meant that Henry was still without any Highbury silverware. But not for long.

In 2001/02, Arsène Wenger’s side would surge to a spectacular Double, finishing seven points clear of Liverpool in the Premier League. They sealed the title with a win over Manchester United at Old Trafford, just days after dispatching Chelsea 2-0 in the FA Cup Final.

Despite lifting the FA Cup once more in 2002/03, back-to-back titles would again elude the Gunners. But they made up for that disappointment in the season that followed, completing an unbeaten title campaign and going on to eclipse Nottingham Forest's long-standing run of League games without defeat. Played 49, Won 36, Drawn 13, Lost None - that Arsenal side was truly 'Invincible'.

Wenger had conquered England but Europe still evaded him. A Quarter-Final defeat against Chelsea in 2004 matched the closest Wenger’s Arsenal had come to the biggest prize in European football but that would all change in May 2006 when they went all the way to the Champions League Final in Paris. In between they claimed another FA Cup triumph, beating Manchester United in Cardiff in 2005.

Arsenal were quickly becoming one of the most revered sides in Europe. And they underlined their ambition when, in February 2004, construction began on the Gunners' new state-of-the-art home at Ashburton Grove, a stone’s throw from Highbury. The new Emirates Stadium officially opened its doors in the summer of 2006 - a bold step into the future for a Club with a glittering past.


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