Arsene Wenger took charge of his 1,000th game as Arsenal manager when the Gunners played Chelsea in March.
To put that achievement into perspective, the Frenchman has taken charge of more than a quarter of all of Arsenal’s games since the war - and is responsible for more than a third of all wins in that time. So there are plenty of highlights to recall when looking over his 17-and-a-half-year reign so far. We chose just 10 of the most significant games from the boss’ long tenure, starting with his first ever game in October 1996, and asked for his memories of each occasion.Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Arsenal, Ewood Park • October 12, 1996 • Premier League, game No 1
Arsenal: Seaman, Dixon, Keown, Bould, Adams, Winterburn, Platt, Vieira, Merson, Wright, Hartson (Parlour 85)Scorers: Wright 3, 51
SummaryWenger’s first game in charge was away to Blackburn Rovers, who had been champions of England one year earlier. Goals from Ian Wright early in each half were enough to give Arsenal a 2-0 win, their first victory at Ewood Park since 1964, and ensure the Frenchman’s reign started with three points.
"I was curious to discover my team and the level of the games and to see how intense it is"
Wenger’s verdict "I came here with nobody knowing me. You need to gain credit and credibility and the only way to achieve that is to win the games - especially the first ones. At the time, Blackburn were a good side and, if I remember, Ian Wright got both goals. He scored straight away in the second half.
"I’ll never forget those early games because I changed the diet a little bit and the players were moaning. When you want to change things, you have to win the games. That gave me some credit and some time to convince people that I had the needed quality to be there.
"I’m always a bit nervous before the games because football is so unpredictable, but I wasn’t more nervous than usual for this game. I was curious to discover my team and the level of the games and to see how intense it is. It was more curiosity than anxiety back then."
Arsenal 4-0 Everton, Highbury • May 3, 1998 • Premier League, game No 87 Arsenal: Seaman, Dixon Adams, Keown, Winterburn, Parlour, Petit (Platt 44), Vieira, Overmars, Anelka (Wright 72), Wreh (Bould 80)Scorers: Bilic (og) 6, Overmars 28, 57, Adams 89Summary Just 87 games into Arsène Wenger’s career as Arsenal manager, he delivered the league title. A 4-0 win over Everton on a sunny May afternoon at Highbury was enough to give the Gunners the title with two games to spare - captain Tony Adams scoring a memorable fourth goal late on.
"It was maybe the best memory I have because it was the first title, we were on a fantastic high"
Wenger’s verdict "I remember before the game I was thinking, ‘Can we miss out on the league today?’ because it was such a big occasion. But then I travelled to the stadium thinking it was impossible not to win it, because I could see the guys were really up for it.
"It was a sunny day and the game finished in an emphatic way because Tony Adams scored with Steve Bould giving him the ball. It was maybe the best memory I have because it was the first title, we were on a fantastic high, the expectation level was not as high as it is today and it was a divine afternoon."Winning a trophy early helps you relax in the job. It gave me time to work to build a team. It was completely different at the time to how it is today but of course it was important - it was vital even."
Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal, Old Trafford • May 8, 2002 • Premier League, game No 321 Arsenal: Seaman, Lauren, Keown, Campbell, Cole, Ljungberg, Parlour, Vieira, Edu, Wiltord, Kanu (Dixon 89)Scorers: Wiltord 57Summary Four years later, Arsenal won the league title again, this time at the home of their closest rivals of the period, Manchester United. Sylvain Wiltord’s second-half goal gave Arsenal a 1-0 win and completed an unprecedented unbeaten away campaign in the Premier League.Wenger’s verdict "This game was after the FA Cup final that we had won against Chelsea, and it was important to go there and show strength and we did that. They had a lot of the ball but Sylvain Wiltord scored and overall it was a fantastic day for us to go there and win.
"What is great is that you remember the togetherness of the team, the happiness of the team"
"You will never forget that. What is great is that you remember the togetherness of the team, the happiness of the team. You would like to do that every year - unfortunately it’s not possible. "I didn’t really speak to Sir Alex Ferguson about the game afterwards. When you are beaten by your main opponent at home, you are always very down. We haven’t spoken about it deeply since. Maybe we will one day. "It was an amazing achievement for us. It was not easy because Manchester United had a great team. That generation was absolutely fantastic and had won everything. That shows now that we had a great year at the time."
Inter Milan 1-5 Arsenal, San Siro • November 25, 2003 • UEFA Champions League, game No 401 Arsenal: Lehmann, Cole, Campbell, Toure, Cygan, Ljungberg, Parlour, Edu, Pires, Kanu (Gilberto 73), Henry (Aliadiere 89) Scorers: Henry 25, 85, Ljungberg 49, Edu 87, Pires 89Summary The following year, Arsenal went to Milan in the Champions League needing a win to avoid elimination at the group stage. The Gunners returned with a staggering 5-1 win, making the rest of Europe sit up and take notice. It was Inter Milan’s first home defeat to English opposition for more than 40 years and was, at the time, Arsenal’s biggest win in the competition.Wenger’s verdict "I think Alberto Zaccheroni was the Inter manager at the time and we just played them off the park. I remember we played with Edu and Ray Parlour in central midfield. Patrick Vieira didn’t play.
"Those are the nights that you don’t forget"
"We played a fantastic game and I think Jeremie Aliadiere set up a goal near the end. Those are the nights that you don’t forget. After such a long time at a club, you think that we have basically won everywhere in Europe now. I think the only ground we haven’t won at is Barcelona but we have won at Real Madrid, at Bayern Munich, at Dortmund, at Inter, at AC Milan. That was one of the big nights in Europe. "The players surprised some people that night, but I think that win also destabilised my team. It attracted a lot of interest from clubs and at the end of the season, we didn’t have the same dressing room because all the agents started looking at our players. It was similar to what happened after the 2-0 win against AC Milan in 2008. Sometimes, wins of that stature can be disruptive after. That can be the downside of being successful, especially when you have a young team with unexpected quality."
"We had the early result with Newcastle beating Chelsea so we knew that if we didn’t lose the game, we would be champions. It just needed to click together on the day. For Arsenal fans it was the ultimate script. You cannot plan it or prepare it unfortunately, because it’s linked with coincidence as well."I have to say I was disappointed with the draw because you always want to do it in the right way and it was a bit sloppy in the end. We were used to thinking we would win the league. The unhappiness came from not doing the job completely on the day."
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City, Highbury • May 15, 2004 • Premier League, game No 440 Arsenal: Lehmann, Lauren, Toure, Campbell, Cole, Ljungberg (Keown 87), Gilberto, Vieira, Pires (Edu 70), Bergkamp (Reyes 82), Henry Scorers: Henry 47, Vieira 66Summary Four games later, a 2-1 win home over Leicester City completed the historic, unbeaten league season. With the title already confirmed, this victory ensured Arsenal became the first side in over a century to remain undefeated throughout an English league campaign, and the ‘Invincibles’ were born. Arsenal had to come from behind, though, after trailing 1-0 at half-time Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira scored to trigger the celebrations.
"I said, ‘Look guys, what you are doing now is going from being champions to being immortal’"
Wenger’s verdict "It was very difficult to motivate the players for the last few games of that season. Most of the time, once you have won the title, you lose games after that. I had to motivate the team highly to continue to keep their concentration. I said, ‘Look guys, what you are doing now is going from being champions to being immortal’. They looked at me thinking, ‘What is he talking about?’ but it was there in their minds and they didn’t give up. They did just enough every time to make sure they didn’t lose the games."We were 1-0 down against Leicester but, after that, we responded well and I think it would have been absolutely crazy to lose the record on the last day of the season, at home. But in the end we won."I don’t remember how I celebrated that evening - I just felt relieved. I’ve always thought that the manager is a guy who takes the maximum out of the potential of a team. So somebody can finish 10th, and still feel they have done a good job if they have got the best out of their players. Even when you are champions, you don’t know if you have taken the maximum out of the team. But when you are unbeaten, you think that there was not much room to do better. I was close to my maximum."I knew it was impossible to do better, because you can only win the league without losing a game. But you want to repeat it and show you can do it again and that is what keeps you going."It was a very unusual feeling because at the end of every season, even when you win titles, you think, ‘We should not have lost there.’ But we didn’t have that at all that season. But you always think you have room for improvement in future. I wanted to repeat it and see if we could do it again."
Real Madrid 0-1 Arsenal, Bernabeu • February 21, 2006 • UEFA Champions League, Game number: 538Arsenal: Lehmann, Eboue, Toure, Senderos, Flamini, Ljungberg, Gilberto, Fabregas (Song 90), Hleb (Pires 76), Reyes (Diaby 80), Henry Scorers: Henry 47Summary In early 2006 Arsenal went to the Bernabeu and beat Real Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of the first knockout stage of the Champions League. Thierry Henry scored the winner as the Gunners became the first English team to beat Madrid away from home. It was part of a run of 10 successive clean sheets in the Champions League that took Wenger’s men all the way to the final that season.Wenger’s verdict "That was when I started to think this team could win the Champions League. I knew that we were on the way to delivering something special and I was very confident before the game at Real Madrid. Knowing that they had Zidane, Beckham, Ronaldo, Raul, Robinho - they had an unbelievable offensive potential. We went there with people who had no experience at the top level. We had Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure at the back with Philippe Senderos and Mathieu Flamini, as well as a very young Cesc Fabregas.
"It was an exceptional goal – for me it was top, top, top class"
"But we had Thierry Henry at the very peak of his game and on the day we won 1-0. Thierry scored after a pass from Fabregas - things don’t change! It was an exceptional goal - for me it was top, top, top class. In the second leg at Highbury, we didn’t concede again and that shows you that football can surprise you even when you are the manager of a team. “You have to have a good defence if you want to win the Champions League. We went into the final without having conceded a goal and then we conceded in the final. I still believe that it was an amazing achievement."Between 2004 and 2007 Thierry Henry was really at his peak and was really the centre of the team. He was an exceptional player."
Arsenal 4-2 Wigan Athletic, Highbury • May 7, 2006 • Premier League, Game number: 555Arsenal: Lehmann; Eboue, Toure, Campbell, Cole, Hleb (van Persie 79), Fabregas, Gilberto, Pires (Ljungberg 73), Reyes (Bergkamp 79), HenryScorers: Pires 8, Henry 35, 56, 76Summary The last-ever game at Highbury. Arsenal needed to win to ensure another top finish, while hoping Tottenham would fail to win across London at West Ham. A 4-2 come-from-behind win over Wigan, including a hat-trick from Henry, coupled with the Hammers’ win at Upton Park, meant that the Gunners could say goodbye to their home of 93 years amid an air of celebration.Wenger’s verdict "I remember that day very well. Basically Tottenham had to lose at West Ham and we had to win the game. It was a fantastic finish because I thought it would be an absolute shame to spoil the memory of the last day of Highbury. "It was perfect, like a written script. That was absolutely exceptional. It was a day I’ll never forget. It was very emotional to leave Highbury. Sometimes I still drive down the road just to go past the old East Stand because it was such a great place and there was so much soul there. It’s just special and you don’t really know why. Maybe for me, it’s because a special part of my life happened there. It is a warm and welcoming place where, on top of that, I have special memories. Everything there was special."
Arsenal 1-1 Aston Villa, Emirates Stadium • August 19, 2006 • Premier League, Game number: 558Arsenal: Lehmann, Eboue, Toure, Djourou, Hoyte (Flamini 80), Ljungberg (Walcott 73), Gilberto, Fabregas, Hleb, Adebayor (van Persie 65), HenryScorers: Gilberto 84Summary A hugely-significant game, it signalled the start of the Emirates Stadium era. The Gunners originally announced their intention to leave Highbury in 1999, and nearly seven years later - after a ton of work carried out behind the scenes - Arsenal moved into their new home. The first game was against Aston Villa on the opening day of the 2006/07 season, and Gilberto’s late equaliser ensured Arsenal wouldn’t start life at the Emirates with a defeat.Wenger’s verdict"The new stadium project provoked a lot of discussions and debate at board level. We spoke about how far we could go, how unpredictable it would be, how risky it was for the club. Can we put the club in danger for this? So when it finally happened, it was a bit of a dream turning into a reality. You couldn’t really believe it.
"When we look back one day, maybe these are not the seasons that will remain most in the memories, but for me this will be the challenge, viewed from a distance, that I’ll be the proudest of completing"
"The disadvantage was that you didn’t really feel at home. After coming from Highbury, where you felt so much at home, you think you are playing on a neutral ground. I went into this challenge and I knew that, OK, I had won things with Arsenal, but now we would go into a period that would be more difficult. To go to a new stadium brought restricted finances at the time and the uncertainty of paying the debt back. The absolute compulsory thing was that we had to stay in the top four. The pressure suddenly became much bigger. I went for this challenge and I must say, thinking back now, it was a massive risk. After some seasons I thanked God that we had managed again to be in the Champions League – but it was only just on a couple of occasions. "The work was really hard and you think that you are not allowed to make any mistake because any point can be costly, which was not so much the case before. These years were - for me certainly as a manager - the most difficult.
“When we look back one day, maybe these are not the seasons that will remain most in the memories, but for me this will be the challenge, viewed from a distance, that I’ll be the proudest of completing. Because I managed to keep the club at the level that we could survive financially. Now, I think we are on the other side of it and the club can compete again with everyone, financially. Hopefully this will be a period where the club can compete with anybody else again. "I’m not a guy who looks back too much. You have to survive and deal with the challenge you have taken. You know that in the history of the club, that will be an important moment where the club moves forward. Some clubs that still have to do it will suffer later. For us it was vital. The landscape of English football has changed in the last 10 years. Today, we could not survive being at Highbury anymore."
Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona, Emirates Stadium • February 16, 2011 • UEFA Champions League, Game number: 830 Arsenal: Szczesny, Eboue, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Song (Arshavin 68), Fabregas, Walcott, Wilshere, Nasri (Bendtner 77), van PersieScorers: van Persie 78, Arshavin 83Summary Barcelona were widely regarded as the best team in the world (and as the best team in history by some) when they visited Emirates in early 2011, and they would duly go on to win the Champions League that season. But Arsenal triumphed in this first knockout stage first-leg match, with two goals in the final 12 minutes at a jubilant Emirates Stadium. Arsenal lost the second leg in Spain in controversial circumstances, but this game proved Arsenal could beat the continent’s best side - featuring the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi - over 90 minutes. It was the only defeat Barcelona suffered in the competition that season.
"Arsenal is my life, a huge part of my life, but I love football in a crazy way on top of that"
Wenger's verdict"Well Arsenal is my life, a huge part of my life, but I love football in a crazy way on top of that. For me, that was the night where football was played in a perfect way and in a perfect spirit by both sides. That means that both teams really went for it as long as they could, and on top of that, we were the winners. That will stay with me as the most perfect night for Arsenal in European football. It would be a bit pretentious for me to say the greatest ever, but for me, on the night, the happiness, the positivity from both teams, the quality on the pitch was absolutely exceptional. For me it was the perfect night in European football.
"What made it special is that we could live with that Barcelona team on the football front. So it gave me a lot of hope that we had the quality to do something special, with the likes of Wilshere, Nasri and van Persie. Arshavin scored the second goal and I think the technical quality of all these players was absolutely amazing."
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