Merci Arsene

The stories behind our best Wenger pictures

Arsene Wenger

Our club photographers, Stuart Macfarlane and David Price, have enjoyed unrivalled access to Arsène Wenger over his 22 years in charge.

Our manager is one of the most photographed people in sport, and by Stuart’s estimation he’s kept around 20,000 shots of the boss since taking his first Wenger picture in 1996.
 
“He was staggered when I told him how many I’d taken,” said Stuart. “He couldn’t believe how many there were and he’s not comfortable being photographed, but he understands it.
 
“He’s been good to me, he’s helped me and allowed me to become a better photographer because of the access he gives me. I know my limitations and I know I can’t push him too far. But he’s never turned around and said ‘no’.”
 
Here, Stuart tells the stories behind his favourite Wenger images.

So this is the first time I photographed him. This was in his first week at the training ground so I’d never met him before. He saw me taking pictures of him so he walked over, asked who I was, I told him and then that was it. He was like ‘you’re fine’, walked away and let me get on with it, but it was a bit unusual to all the other normal training sessions because I’d never seen players do stretches or anything like that and he was leading it.

Whereas now you’ve got fitness coaches, it was really unusual to see that. At that time at the training ground you could just walk in. There was no sort of security or anything and he looks over and sees some photographer not in any Arsenal gear just taking pictures and he was a bit curious. But that was the first time - he walked over, asked who I was and after that I didn’t think that 22 years later I’d still be taking his picture.

I’d had a year of Bruce Rioch who was gone so I thought maybe this was the way it was going to happen, we’re going to change the manager every season! When I first started full-time I used to have to go and ask him every single day if I could cover training and in the end he just got a bit irritable with me asking so he said ‘just go ahead’. 

This was at the new training ground and he’s talking to his players before the season started. It’s a really nice picture because it shows them all listening to him, just him talking and I think that’s where the work is done. For me, that’s like his office. That’s where you see him at his most natural and where I see his true personality.

That’s the bit he loves, he loves coaching and watching the players play, and watching fantastic players play football. That’s always a nice picture when I look at it because it’s a nice big tree and it’s a nice sunny day and that’s what I think of when I think of London Colney. I don’t think of the days where it’s lashing down with rain and you’re getting blown off your feet. 

So this is from QPR’s ground but it’s actually a game against Fulham because they used to ground-share. I know that the boss was always perceived as being the professor or whatever and never losing his cool, but I love this because I’ve got a sequence of frames of him climbing on the wall of the dugout and jumping out onto the pitch when he’s trying to make his point!

That’s quite an early picture from 2002 and I think we were 1-0 up already and I just love the faces in the background. He’s the only one who’s getting affected by what’s going on in the game and everyone else is just watching. It shows his emotion, even back at that time. 

In the past we had these remote cameras that you can set up on a tripod in front of the bench. I remember when we beat Spurs 5-2 (the first time) I had one there, and you can fire it from behind the goal because it’s pre-focused on the boss. Well, it worked for a couple of games and then at half-time in one game I walked up and the camera wasn’t there. I asked one of the stewards what happened, and he said that the boss had walked over, picked it up and thrown it away! I thought after that that maybe I shouldn’t put it there…

So this was on a remote controller but hidden and facing the other way so it’s level with his seat and it’s not pointing at him. For this shot it’s a matter of waiting, watching him and then as soon as he gets in a position where you’re pre-focused you shoot as much as you can. It’s just a really lovely picture because he looks quite regal in a way.

He’s got his tie blowing slightly to one side and he hasn’t got one of those big long coats on and he’s actually facing this way. The hardest thing is that you want him facing the camera and generally he’s facing what’s going on, on the pitch. You might shoot 1,500 frames on your long lens and you shoot that at the same time, so you’re never looking, you’re just shooting and you think oh, there he is, bang, bang, bang, you don’t really know what he’s looking at. 

This is from pre-season in Austria in 2006. It was in between the move from Highbury to Emirates, and on the day before our dressing-room manager Paddy Galligan died when he was on holiday. I found out the night before and I was quite upset because I was really close to him and then the manager brought everyone down for pre-season and he told all the lads. Everyone knew him because Paddy would look after everyone on a matchday.

It was a really emotional moment and the way that the boss spoke about Paddy, it was like a member of our family had died, and a few of our boys were in tears afterwards. Most of the boys didn’t know until the boss had told them, but as soon as it was done it was like bang, straight into a double training session. But it’s just a side of him that people don’t know about. He’s quite private.

This picture has never been published or seen before, but it’s something that I always think about when I think about Paddy. But certainly in that moment when he’s telling all these millionaire footballers about this little old Irish guy who looked after them… it really says a lot about the manager and the way he speaks about people. 

When we found out he was leaving I wanted to go and do a set of pictures of him in his office and at the training ground. I knew it would be quite tricky to arrange and as much as I spend a bit of time around him, I rarely have long conversations with him. I came back from pre-season and he’d asked me about Glastonbury because he was really intrigued about how all those people with no police can live together, how you shower, how you eat and stuff like that.

That was a five-minute conversation that we’d have virtually every year. He’d ask me about photography, but we’ll be sat in his office and you don’t know what to say, you know? He doesn’t really like having his picture taken and I’m there in his office, and he’s obviously sad about leaving. I was out of my comfort zone certainly, but I got a nice portrait of him with that Invincibles picture on the wall behind him. 

When the plans were put in place to move to Emirates, when we bought the land, I was asked to come up with an idea for a picture that we could do before. I asked if we knew where the centre spot is. The architect said yes, so I suggested we took the manager there and tried to place him in the same spot all the way through.

It wasn’t the easiest thing to do because it was on a building site but I’m still convinced that’s the centre spot! We got photos just as building work started, halfway through and once the stadium was done. I just thought it was a lovely idea and it’s just something that I’m quite proud about. It’s not something you can ever go back and say ‘let’s do that one again’. They’re not great pictures, but it’s a nice story. 

So this was after the celebrations  at White Hart Lane and the boss didn’t really want to get involved but the fans were calling for him. I honestly didn’t even see the ‘Arsene Knows’ banner initially, I just wanted him waving at the fans, and I don’t even know why he put his hands up afterwards. It’s one of those that is such a lucky shot, but you don’t really know the significance of it when you take it.

Since he’s announced that he’s leaving that picture’s been used more than it ever has. You take a lot of pictures and you don’t ever think that they’ll have any significance but the longer they go the more they do. I still get people on Twitter and Instagram asking if I’ve got a slightly wider shot because they were there, or ‘that’s me there’. I think the boss just saw me there and thought ‘I’d better give this idiot a picture!’ 

I used to play a bit of cat and mouse with the boss. This picture was taken the day before a game and sometimes he’d come out and take a look at the pitch if he got there early. I knew he did it but I wanted to get a picture of him looking at the pitch without being intrusive, because it’s not at a match.

So I hid up in the directors box and thought ‘I’ll sit in the front row and pretend that I don’t have a camera, then hopefully he won’t see me’. But he does see everything. He 100 per cent knows I’m there because I did it for four of five games and I was hiding in all sorts of places. He must have walked out the tunnel and thought ‘what is this idiot doing?!’ 

On the day that the boss signed, the lead photographer at Colorsport, Andy Cowie, came up with this picture and sat him in the seats at Highbury. It’s a really lovely picture. I looked back at Andy’s picture and thought that it’s such a great picture, it’d be great to re-enact that with the manager. So we asked him and he was great about it.

I had a print of Andy’s picture from back in the day and showed it to him and he loved the idea of doing it and he loved the idea that he actually looked pretty cool compared to back then. He looks classy, had a great suit on, and we’d just beaten Watford. 

Arsene Wenger with Pricey

In recent months Pricey has developed a very unique relationship with the boss. When they’ve been short of players for the staff football and Pricey’s been up there working, they’ve asked him to join in. Pricey played on the vets team - which the boss is obviously in charge of - against the youngsters, and last week Pricey scored an unbelievable goal in the last minute of the game and we’ve got it on the analysts’ video!

Pricey scored with a left-foot volley and the boss went down on his knees and started punching the air. When we walked out for training the next day the boss had the biggest smile on his face because he saw Pricey and I think he just loves him because he’s got so much energy and does all the running for the older players in the team!