Arsene Wenger has been the Gunners' manager for 14 years, and during that time a lot has transpired. Any assessment of his reign would have to be done based on certain key parameters, such as trophies won, club finances and impact on soccer culture.
Who would have thought that the Frenchman would transform Arsenal Football club from a London club notorious for grinding out narrow wins into a cosmopolitan outfit with an enlightened sense of class and style?
From the club diet to their exercises down to the way the team plays, this gifted economist has his stamp all over the club. That they moved into a new stadium within budget and still remained a top Premier League club was due to his vision.
Yes, in the past five years, no cup has been won, but it has not been for lack of trying. He has won the double twice, with league and FA cups in 1998 and 2002. A squad of players that included the likes of Dennis Berkamp, Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera, Frank Overmars, Nicholas Anelka, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Petite, Robert Pires and David Seaman wrote their names into immortality by going undefeated en route to winning the league in 2004.
They went on a 49-game spree before losing a league game. After beating Manchester United in a penalty shootout during the FA cup in 2005, the Gunners have not won a cup since. In 2006, Arsenal played in their first Champions League final and lost to Barcelona in a thrilling game in Paris, after leading while down by one player following a red card to Jans Lehman, their German goalkeeper.
In the transfer market, Wenger has kept a magician’s touch by bringing in raw gems and transforming them into stars (Anelka and Viera). In some cases, he has resurrected the careers of a few stars who had hit a purple patch in their form elsewhere (Berkamp, Henry and Viera). In addition, he has a knack for selling players before their value has diminished considerably (Henry, Overmars and Viera).
Some of the sales, to be frank, were forced on him by a combination of reasons, ranging from paying for the new Emirates stadium, and stronger pay packages elsewhere (Ashley Cole and Emmanuel Adebayor). The apparent emphasis on developing youth at the expense of buying experience has left the Reds looking like a selling club that cashes in, from time to time, on its star players to balance the books.
Club finances continue to be a model for others to follow. The manager has engineered a profitable enterprise that is the envy of his colleagues. Chelsea has quietly been following the Arsenal model. Increasingly, more clubs now adopt a yearly contract for players over thirty years of age as a nod to what Wenger started to do in Arsenal.
French players are the bulk of Arsene’s purchases, and that raises a question of bias in his approach which has gone unquestioned by the club’s hierarchy. He does have an air of infallibility, which can be blinding or detrimental if left unchecked. A stubborn streak is well covered by his urbane persona.
On average, his acquisitions have tended to be technically skillful, but lack a distinct physical presence or the dogged warrior quality required in the Premiership. This explains why, in the past, they have had difficulty winning games against teams like Blackburn Rovers and especially Bolton Wanderers.
"The Professor, as he is sometimes called, has nurtured three great Arsenal sides. The current generation is close to making their name in Arsenal’s history. However, time will tell how great they will be.
Without a doubt, Monsieur Arsene Wenger is the greatest manager in Arsenal Football Club’s history. The revered Herbert Chapman comes second.