By Will von FronemheinI was 10 years old when Arsene Wenger became the manager of the Arsenal. Truth be told, I wasn’t even an Arsenal fan back then. I was no fan, a mere reflection of the sport my parents exposed me to. My football knowledge was limited to Neil Tovey lifting some trophy the year after Francois lifted the big one. It wasn’t till the 1998 World Cup where I got formally introduced to a game that has brought me more heartache than pleasure. By the time I became an Arsenal fan, Wenger already lead the Gunners to the double. I did not support them because of their recent glory but rather because Thierry Henry joined.
As complacent as Arsenal fans have become with finishing in the Top four while reaching final 16 of the Champions League so too, have we gone through the years without really realising what we have in a man who’s greatness, I fear will only be recognised once his reign as Arsenal’s north star has ended (just look at the turmoil in Manchester).
"All I know is, Arsenal can never repay this man enough"
Wenger has always had a desire to entertain and attack, building teams that will go down in history as some of the best to have ever played the game. He’s also had failure… in fact, eight years, nine months and 23 days of “failure” depending on who you ask.
Many say Wenger hasn’t accomplished much but forget that he dedicated his life to Arsenal. After winning 11 trophies with the Gunners, he dedicated more time to a dream that is what he perceived to be Arsenal’s future and with it ignoring massive interest from clubs like Real Madrid (a friendly request to sign for five more years or basically no Emirates). He might be remembered as the one who brought us the 'invincibles' but he should be remembered as the one that ensured Arsenal had a very sustainable future. He surrendered many transfers in a time where his economic mind saw only a stadium to pay, sacrificing short-term returns as he a envisaged a long-term strategy. Whether or not that will pay dividends remains a question without an answer, all I know is, Arsenal can never repay this man enough.
There’s many managers with better winning ratio’s (57.2%) but none had the complete pound for pound involvement he had/has. With 999 games (W: 572, L: 192, D: 235) under his belt he now prepares for the 1000th, and what a game it could be. Over his reign of 999 games Wenger’s been called many things, "technically brilliant", "emotionless", someone who’s great at "spotting and nurturing young talent" and more recently, someone who’s a "specialist in failure". These recent remarks come from some authority, a man dubbed as something special because of his accomplishments across the globe, winning a massive 20 trophies in his mere 14 years of managing (not assistant managing) four different clubs.
Their professional “battle” has grown since their first encounter back in August 2005 where Wenger took the first swipe stating that we live in a world where there’s only winning and losing but “once a sport encourages teams to refuse to take the initiative, the sport is in danger”. Wenger’s "parking the bus" allegations were soon rebutted by Mourinho basically calling Wenger a peeping tom (voyeur) with his big telescope focused on what Chelsea does. This little childish niggle continued with Wenger calling him stupid and Mourinho taking no step back. Even after Mourinho left Chelsea on "mutual consent" the Portuguese manager couldn’t shy away from swipes at a man who also didn’t take a back seat when it came to commenting on clubs his modern day nemesis managed. With all this said, there’s only one true measure i.e. on the football field. To this day Wenger is yet to beat Mourinho where it matters. On the 10 occasions they’ve met, Wenger managed to draw only five times with the average score being 2.1/1. It doesn’t really take a rocket scientist to determine who’s had the better of the battle.
But football is a funny old game. The twists and turns are ever developing and as it happens Wenger’s landmark 1000th game is against Mourinho’s Chelsea. The complexities of this tie is staggering. Wenger "confident" after the Gunners’ not so convincing north London Derby and Mourinho brooding after his nine-man defeat against Aston Villa. Both teams statistically in the title race. Chelsea with three days between games while Arsenal had a full week. Mourinho’s squad depth vs Wenger’s injury list. Mourinho’s possible sanction after he was dismissed to the stands after his dismay at Ramires’ red card. Mourinho’s unbeaten record at the Bridge…. It goes on and on and Saturday could either be Wenger’s ultimate loss or a very very sweet revenge.
Regardless of the result, I would (and I’m sure the other boys from @thePunditsSA) like to congratulate Le Prof on his 1000th game. In Arsene I trust…