Charting Arsene Wenger's Rise and Fall at Arsenal

Mr XSenior Writer IMarch 1, 2013

Charting Arsene Wenger's Rise and Fall at Arsenal

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    Once upon a time, Arsene Wenger was Invincible at Arsenal. The club's most successful and longest-serving manager, having led the Gunners to 11 honours between 1996 and 2005, is now under intense pressure. The reason for this aggravation, mostly from his own supporters, is Arsenal's barren run over the last eight seasons. 

    Le Prof is now in his 17th season with the Gunners, and there is little doubt he deserves his place in the pantheon of the game's great managers. Not only has he won two doubles, in 1998-99 and 2001-02, and guided his team to an unbeaten season, in 2003-04, he has also changed the very shape, style and philosophy of the English game.

    Here, I look at the highs and lows of Arsene Wenger during his tenure at Arsenal FC.

1991: Arsene Wenger's First-Ever English Interview

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    Before Arsenal there was Nagoya Grampus Eight, and before Nagoya there was Monaco.

    Managing the principality was Arsene Wenger's second job in football after three years with Nancy. It was here that he started to develop his studious style and attention to detail on and off the football pitch.

    The video above was taken from a pre-season friendly against Swansea City in 1991.

1996: Arsene Wenger Succeeds Bruce Rioch at Arsenal

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    Looking back at how Bruce Rioch was unceremoniously sacked by the Arsenal board in 1996, one can only feel sympathy for the Englishman.

    The 1995–96 season was his only term at Arsenal, and he guided the Gunners to a place in the now-defunct UEFA Cup. During the summer, he was sacked after a dispute with the boardroom over transfer funds.

    Arsenal were then quickly linked with the likes of Terry Venables and Johan Cruyff and a complete unknown called Arsene Wenger. It took the club until late September to appoint the Frenchman.

    Author and avid Arsenal fan Nick Hornby remembered what the signing was initially like in a piece by Jasper Rees for The Guardian:

    "I remember when Rioch was sacked, one of the papers had three or four names," says Hornby. "It was Venables, Cruyff and then at the end Arsene Wenger. I remember thinking as a fan, I bet it's...Arsene Wenger, because I haven't heard of him and I've heard of the other two. Trust Arsenal to appoint the boring one that you haven't heard of."

    This immediately prompted the London Evening Standard to lead the now-famous headline of "Arsene Who?"

1996: Plyometrics and Diets

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    When Arsene Wenger joined the club on September 30, he inherited a back-four with more miles on their legs than one would want of any top-class team. His captain was an alcoholic, and the team were still using out-dated English training and dietary methods from the '60s.

    He instantly revolutionized their training by introducing plyometrics and psychometric testing. Wenger then set about changing the club's diets and meal arrangements. This had an instant impact upon the team, and they took to the new training methods like ducks to water. 

    The first battle had been won, which was ultra-important considering how the players had underestimated him upon his arrival.

    The Gunners went on to only lose nine games under Wenger in his first season and finished third on goal difference behind Newcastle United and eventual champions Manchester United in 1997.

1996: Patrick Vieira Joins from AC Milan

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    Legend has it that Arsene Wenger advised Arsenal to buy Patrick Vieira from AC Milan before he was announced as their new manager in August following Bruce Rioch's sacking.

    He arrived on August 14, 1996 for £3.5 million and was the first piece in the jigsaw of the team that won the double the following year.

    He would also be the significant first signing and would herald the new approach to capturing hitherto unknown youngsters with great potential.

    Vieira was a player with gargantuan levels of stamina and toughness. He could stride from box to box without even taking a breath. He also possessed the power to dominate midfield while masking a technical side to his game that, to this day, is vastly underestimated.

    The French star was a truly wonderful signing.

1997: Emmanuel Petit Joins from Monaco

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    By the time Emmanuel Petit joined Arsenal in the summer of 1997, Arsene Wenger had already transformed the Gunners' style of play. Their new style stayed true to the combative nature of George Graham's teams.

    But it also came with a new slick passing style and counter-attacking swiftness that was nearly impossible to stop.

    Petit arrived and put the icing on the cake across centre-midfield. The French international had been with Wenger's old team Monaco for nine years and was primarily used as a left-back.

    Wenger signed him and immediately moved him into centre-midfield, where he formed one of the most formidable midfield partnerships of all time with Patrick Vieira.

    This pairing gave them the foundation to challenge for the league in Wenger's first full season, 1997-98.

1997-98: Wenger Wins the Double in His First Full Season in Charge

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    Arsenal were an unstoppable force during the 1997-98 season.

    Marc Overmars provided speed and agility, Vieira and Petit offered strength and guile in midfield and Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp scored the all-vital goals.

    Legendary left-back Nigel Winterburn played in 37 of the 38 league matches and was an essential part of the team that went unbeaten in domestic action until November 1.

    Significantly, the Gunners only won one game of eight between October 14, and December 6, and that was against Manchester United in a cracking 3-2 encounter. David Platt scored the winner with just seven minutes remaining.

    With that blip out of the way, Arsenal only lost one more match between November and May 6, and that was in the League Cup.

    With United and the Gunners vying for the title, Arsenal won nine matches in a row, including a famous 1-0 win at Old Trafford on March 14. 

    This victory over United virtually handed the title to Wenger and his team.

    Arsenal then went on to beat Newcastle in the FA Cup Final to become the first club in English football history to win the double twice.

1999: Thierry Henry Joins from Juventus

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    Thierry Henry joined the growing French revolution at Arsenal in August 1999 after an unsuccessful spell with Juventus.

    The former Monaco prodigy joined the Gunners for a massive £10.5 million and immediately looked like a fish out of water. He struggled to adapt to the English game as he had struggled in Serie A.

    Arsenal had finished as runners-up in 1998-99 following their historic double in '98, and Henry was signed with a view to firing them to the title.

    A disastrous return of just two goals from his opening 17 games had many wondering if Wenger had lost his touch and if Henry was a huge waste of money. Wenger re-jigged his team slightly to get the best out of Henry by letting the Frenchman drift out to the left before launching counter-attacks.

    The result was a return of 29 goals for club and country over the next 40 matches, including an amazing run of scoring in nine matches in a row for Arsenal before bagging three in five as France won Euro 2000.

    A legend had been born.

2001: Sol Campbell Joins on a Free Transfer from Tottenham Hotspur

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    Sol Campbell became the latest top-class player to join Arsenal in 2001.

    The classy England defender left North London neighbors Tottenham Hotspur on a free transfer in the most controversial of manners.

    Spurs and Arsenal have always endured a frosty relationship because of their rivalry, and in 2001 it threatened to become a holy war after Campbell left his boyhood team. Campbell had always maintained he would sign a new contract with Spurs but left them in the lurch as he jumped ship to join their bitter enemies.

    He was the perfect player to replace the soon-to-be-retired Tony Adams and slotted in almost perfectly.

2001-02: The Double Double

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    Arsenal started the 2001-02 season off poorly and only won four games from their opening nine matches.

    By this stage, Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars had left the club to join Barcelona, and they had been replaced by Robert Pires and Fredrik Ljungberg in a new-look midfield.

    The old back-four of Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn and Martin Keown was coming to an end. Winterburn was no longer with the club, Adams was now a bit-part player and Keown and Dixon were now squad players.

    Everything had changed, and the future did not look bright.

    Arsenal eventually got their season running when their 10 men beat Derby Co. 2-0 with two goals from Henry after Keown had been sent off. From there, a new belief started to rise.

    The Gunners would go on to only lose three more games in domestic action until the end of the season. They hammered Manchester United 4-0 at Highbury and beat their rivals 1-0 at Old Trafford in the penultimate game of the season.

    Importantly, between March 17, and May 7, Arsenal would win all 17 matches to claim the Premier League title and the FA Cup. They beat Chelsea 2-0 in the final for the second time in Wenger's reign.

2002: Tony Adams, Lee Dixon Leave the Club

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    While Tony Adams and Lee Dixon were little more than squad players during the double-double season, they were huge influences in the dressing room and training ground.

    Experience from top-level professionals of the caliber of Adams and Dixon cannot be replicated in any way, shape or form, and they were badly missed the following season.

    If truth be told, their character is still missed today.

2003: FA Cup Victory

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    Arsenal started off the 2002-03 season in breathtaking form. They went unbeaten in their opening 13 games, winning all but two and claiming a Community Shield with a 1-0 over Liverpool.

    However, a 2-1 defeat to Everton in late October, with a young Wayne Rooney scoring a 90th-minute thunderbolt to win the game, really knocked them from their stride.

    They lost seven of the following 15 fixtures, winning five, before a 2-0 win over Middlesborough signaled an 18-game unbeaten run.

    The run was brought to an end by Blackburn Rovers at Highbury, and once again it highlighted the fragile nature of the Arsenal dressing room without the likes of Adams, Petit, Dixon and an injured Vieira.

    That loss set about an abysmal end-of-season run that would see Arsenal only win four of their remaining nine games as they lost the title to Manchester United.

    The disappointment of finishing second to their main rivals was offset by a 1-0 victory over Southampton in the FA Cup Final.

2003: David Seaman Leaves

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    David Seaman finished off a glittering career with Arsenal in 2003. Having played 45 games on the way to FA Cup victory over Southampton, the ex-England international left the club.

    Initially, it was thought that Seaman would retire, but Manchester City tempted him to take up a roll between the posts the following season.

    Like Adams and Dixon before him, Seaman has never been replaced at Arsenal.

    Goalkeeper remains a huge blank-spot for Arsene Wenger. None of Seaman's successors have ever been of top quality, despite what was to happen in 2003-04.

2003: Cesc Fabregas Joins on a Free Transfer from Barcelona

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    Cesc Fabregas became the latest starlet to be snapped up by Arsenal in 2003. The future captain came in on a free after Barcelona hesitated over offering a professional contract to the then-16-year-old.

    In 2011, he would rejoin his childhood team for £30 million.

    Fabregas made three appearances in 2003-04, with the first coming in a 1-1 draw with Rotherham in the League Cup. Arsenal eventually won the tie 9-8 on penalties.

    He made two further appearances in the League Cup that season and scored his first goal for the club in the 5-1 mauling of Wolves at Highbury.

    Fabregas played no part in the Invincibles season, but his story was just beginning, and he would play a major part in the changing philosophy and direction of the club.

2003: Arsenal Start Building the Emirates Stadium

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    In 2003, after years of planning, ground was broken on Arsenal's new 60,000-seater stadium. It was hoped that the new stadium would give the Gunners the chance to compete against the biggest teams in Europe.

2003-04: The Invincibles

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    In 2003-04, Arsenal achieved what will go down in history as Arsene Wenger's greatest moment.

    They went the entire 38-game season unbeaten.

    Arsenal finished the Premier League on 90 points with a record that reads as PLD-38 W-26 D-12 L-0.

    Their season was a rollercoaster from day one, when they drew the Community Shield with Manchester United 1-1 after substitute Francis Jeffers was sent off within 15 minutes of coming on.

    No one would have guessed that game was the beginning of something special.

    There were fantastic victories over the likes of Manchester City, both home and away, where last minute goals played their parts. They clinched two draws against Manchester United, beat Liverpool and generally fought back against anything the league could offer.

    Thierry Henry scored a miraculous 44 goals in 63 games for club and country, and Arsene Wenger was the hottest manager on the planet.

2004: Robin van Persie Joins

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    The old philosophy at Liverpool when they were dominating English football was to sign a star and an unknown at the same time.

    In this regard, the capture of Robin van Persie for just £2.75 million captures this perfectly.

    With Henry beginning to attract the attention of the biggest clubs in the world, Arsene Wenger got his succession-planning bang on when he brought in the injury-prone Dutchman as Henry's apprentice.

    It was yet another showing of how good Arsene Wenger was at finding diamonds in the rough.

2005: Martin Keown, Ray Parlour and Edu All Leave

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    Martin Keown and Ray Parlour both left in the aftermath of the Invincibles season. They were the last of the old boot-room and took with them a little something that has never been replaced.

    One year later, Edu, who had played 48 times in the unbeaten season of 2003-04, was allowed to leave for Valencia on a free transfer after a breakdown in contract negotiations.

    The Brazilian international was a tidy midfielder, and Wenger must have thought his influence would not be missed, particularly with the progression of Fabregas.

    In hindsight, Edu became the first player to leave the club over money issues.

2005: Pizzagate

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    Following the famed "Battle of Manchester" in October 2004, where Man United won 2-0 and ended Arsenal's 49-game unbeaten run, it was fair to say that relations between the two teams and managers were at an all-time low.

    In the aftermath of the match, it is believed that Arsene Wenger called Ruud van Nistelrooy a cheat. When the Dutchman reported this to his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson made an immediate beeline to Wenger to confront him.

    Unfortunately for Ferguson, though, an unnamed Arsenal player threw a pizza at the United boss, and "Pizzagate" was born. 

2005: FA Cup Triumph and the Coming Powers

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    Arsenal recorded the fourth FA Cup victory of the Arsene Wenger reign in 2005 with a penalty shoot-out win over Manchester United following a drab 0-0 draw.

    The manner of the victory mattered little to the North London club, as it came at the expense of their fiercest rivals at the end of an arduous season.

    United have brought Arsenal's 49-game unbeaten run to an end at Old Trafford in October, and from there relations between the two sides became incredibly strained.

    Part of that strain was caused by the pressure of having to compete in an increasingly small league. Jose Mourinho and Chelsea, armed with Roman Abramovich's billions, won the league in 2005 and were on the way to becoming viable contenders every season.

    The top two positions in the Premier League had been monopolised by Arsenal and Manchester United between 1997 and 2005. There was now a new kid on the block who did not play by the same rules, and tensions grew frayed on all sides.

2005: Focusing on the Enemy

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    In the aftermath of Chelsea's historic Premier League win in 2005, Arsene Wenger was asked about whether he thought the Blues would dominate the game for years to come.

    Unafraid of what may come after his comment, he said yes and became the first man to coin the phrase "financial doping." The context of this quote was Chelsea's league title win and their massive over-spending whilst tapping up players like Ashley Cole, who was an Arsenal player at the time.

    "I feel yes, because they are a financially doped club," he said. "They have enhancement of performances through financial resources which are unlimited. For me, it's a kind of doping because it's not in any way linked to their resources."

    This immediately drew a response from Jose Mourinho, who called Wenger a "voyeur" for being so interested in Chelsea. Mourinho, coming under pressure from Wenger, then went public with a 120-page dossier on the Frenchman and his quotes about Chelsea.

    Wenger's response to Jose is one of the greatest football quotes of all time: "He's out of order, disconnected with reality and disrespectful. When you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid sometimes and not more intelligent"

2005-06: Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires Leave

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    Two more huge players were to leave Arsenal in 2005. Patrick Vieira was sold to Juventus for £13.75 million, and Robert Pires was allowed to leave on a free transfer.

    Both players had made huge contributions, Vieira in particular, and were incredibly important first-team players when Arsene Wenger allowed them to exit Highbury.

    Cesc Fabregas had just joined the club in 2003 and was being touted as a future captain and central midfielder. Wenger was very conscious of getting the young Spaniard involved as soon as possible.

    However, to do this, he had to change the style of the team and their system of play.

    Wenger's favored 4-4-2, with Vieira as its anchor, made way for a fluent 4-2-3-1 that saw Fabregas play in a midfield triumvirate. Here, his slender size could be protected by playing him with two other middle men.

    To make this work, Emmanuel Adebayor was brought in as the pinnacle of the attack. Aleksandr Hleb, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott were all brought in for attacking midfield roles, and Abou Diaby was seen as a possible replacement for muscle in midfield.

    The problem with this approach by Wenger was that he was shedding players with proven track records and characters and replacing them with players with high potential but questionable footballing character.

2006: Champions League Final Defeat to Barcelona

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    Having lost so many influential players over the two years following the Invincibles season, Arsenal enjoyed a thoroughly miserable Premier League campaign. The Gunners were inconsistent all season and eventually dropped to fourth behind champions Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool.

    Qualification to the Champions League was only achieved on the final day of the season. This came at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur, as the entire Spurs squad were struck down with food poisoning just hours before their final game against West Ham.

    Spurs lost and were leap-frogged by a grateful Gunners team into fourth.

    In Europe, Arsenal made it to the Champions League Final against Barcelona.

    They qualified for the final after vanquishing Ajax, Real Madrid a Juventus team led by Patrick Vieira and Villareal.

    Unfortunately for Arsenal, though, their final appearance was marred by the sending off of Jens Lehmann in goal after just 18 minutes. The valiant Gunners took the lead through Sol Campbell before eventually succumbing to two late goals.

2006: Ashley Cole Leaves for Chelsea

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    Following the Champions League defeat to Barcelona, Ashley Cole became the latest star to exit Arsenal.

    Moving for a transfer fee of just £5 million, the best left-back in England chose to turn his back on the unraveling empire of Arsene Wenger for the growing power that was Jose Mourinho.

    Arsenal and Arsene Wenger immediately went on the attack and accused Chelsea of tapping their player up across a number of secret meetings.

    To this day, Arsenal fans have yet to forgive "Cashley" for turning his back on the team.

2006: Sol Campbell Leaves for Portsmouth

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    Sol Campbell left Arsenal in 2006 after scoring in their Champions League final defeat to Barcelona. The England international had controversially joined from Tottenham Hotspur in 2001.

    Campbell's exit was also controversial but on a completely different level.

    When refusing to sign a new contract, he said, "I want to kick-start my career again and take my football into a new realm and playing abroad will do that. It's something I have dreamt about since I was a boy. I have nothing left to prove in England."

    "It is with a sense of pride, achievement and the desire for a fresh challenge that I depart," read the statement. "Playing abroad is something that would really interest me, but I am keeping all of my options open."

    Campbell, plagued by injuries coming up to his leaving the club, agreed to cancel his contact by mutual consent with Arsenal and promptly joined Portsmouth.

    This prompted Wenger to ask the now famous question, "Have you sold Portsmouth to a foreign country?

2006: The Emirates Stadium Opens Its Doors

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    While players were leaving the club in alarming numbers at the end of the 2005-06 season, the club officially opened the £470 million Emirates Stadium.

    Financed through loans, the sale of apartments at the old Highbury site, sponsorship and the sale of top players, it was hoped the 60,000-seat stadium would put Arsenal back on top challenging for the league.

2006-07: Unable to Compete

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    With the Invincibles well on the way to being dismantled for a poorer version, Arsenal once again struggled in 2007.

    This would be the first season without the likes of Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole, and it really showed.

    The Gunners once again got off to a fantastic start to the season, only losing once in their first 11 games. They were on course to challenge for yet another title; however, a complete collapse after Christmas that saw them win only six matches of 23 left them fourth once again.

    The cracks and warning signs were never more evident than in a 4-1 defeat at Anfield to Liverpool. Arsenal also lost the League Cup final to Chelsea and had two men sent off in the final minutes of that game.

    The dismissals hid a less-than-stellar performance against a Chelsea side that bossed the game for the most part.

2007: Thierry Henry Leaves for Barcelona

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    Arsene Wenger was dealt another huge blow in the summer of 2007, when his protege left the club in search of trophies elsewhere.

    Thierry Henry left for Barcelona for £16 million, having scored 226 goals in 369 matches for the club. The club legend was all but irreplaceable and looked to be growing more and more frustrated at Arsenal's sudden decline since 2004.

    His final season with the club was also wracked with injuries, but that did not stop him from going on to play 121 games for Barca over the next three campaigns.

    He would eventually retire for Arsenal on loan from Major League Soccer in 2012. By then, he was a mere shadow of his former great self and further proved how far the Gunners had fallen.

2007-08: Collapsing Under Pressue

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    In many ways, the 2007-08 season was a bittersweet success, but in others it was a disaster.

    Arsenal only lost seven games all season and started the campaign off with an amazing 21-game unbeaten run in all competitions that saw them draw only four games.

    But just as people thought we were on the verge of Invincibles Part Deux, the Gunners lost to a Stewart Downing-inspired Middlesborough. The worrying thing was that Chelsea and Manchester United were matching Arsenal stride for stride.

    A 5-1 hammering by Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup in January signalled that the tides were slowly turning in North London and that their rivals were gradually improving. That defeat inspired a complete loss of confidence that saw them win only two of 13 fixtures between February and the end of April.

    Another crushing defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford ended their slim hopes of another challenge. And an amazing collapse against Liverpool in the quarterfinals of the Champions League meant their season ended on a complete down note.

2008: Mathieu Flamini Leaves on a Free Transfer

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    In his four seasons with Arsenal, Mathieu Flamini played over 150 games. The French star was the perfect foil for the young Cesc Fabregas and was happy to do the donkey work for the young star in the making.

    Often underestimated at the Gunners, Flamini was a vital piece of the jigsaw. He was allowed to leave on a free transfer in the summer of 2008, which highlighted the club's wage structure and refusal to be held to ransom.

    However, Flamini's improvement meant that Arsenal could dispense with the slowing legs of Gilberto Silva, and they allowed the Brazilian star to negotiate a move away from the Emirates. All the while, negotiations with Flamini were stalling.

    In the end, the highly rated youngster chose Carlo Ancelotti and AC Milan over Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. He would go on to endure an injury and never reproduce the form he showed at the Gunners.

2008-09: So Near, Yet so Far

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    A young Arsenal side would dearly pay the price for their inexperience in 2009. Their league challenge, once again, collapsed at a far too early fence.

    They lost another FA Cup semifinal to Chelsea and were completely out-played by Manchester United in the semifinals of the Champions League.

    They would, however, finish fourth, a distant 18 points behind United, and claim a place in the Champions League for the 13th time in a row.

2009: The Rise of Manchester City

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    The start of the 2009 season saw Arsenal further weakened by the arrival of Manchester City as a force.

    The Citizens paid Arsenal a cool £41 million for the services of Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure. City immediately became top-four contenders with an ever-improving Tottenham Hotspur, and, all of a sudden, there were six teams with the riches to compete instead of just four.

    Arsenal, as one of the weaker top four teams, instantly fell under pressure. Following a 4-2 defeat to Manchester City, in which Adebayor scored and celebrated controversially, many Arsenal fans wondered if their stay at the top was up.

2010: Arsene Wenger Amazed at Arsenal's Transfer Criticism

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    The critics of Arsenal's transfer policy over the last eight years are growing in number. From members of the media to members of his own supporters, Arsene Wenger has had to endure huge amounts of criticism.

    In this short interview with Al Jazeera, he explains that he will not change the club's policy for anyone or anything.

2010: Lionel Messi Highlighs the Gap

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    It is no great shame to lose to a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona side. The night Arsenal took on Barca in the Champions League quarterfinals, the little maestro was simply amazing.

    Messi scored four times as Arsenal were well and truly ripped apart.

    The defeat was a low point because it completely shattered the Gunners' confidence. It left them full in the knowledge that not only were they failing to compete in domestic action, but European action was now beyond them too.

    It also showed that in the four years since the two clubs had met in the Champions League final in 2006, Arsenal had gone backwards, while Barca had been propelled forwards.

2011: League Cup Final Defeat to Birmingham City

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    The embarrassing defeat to Birmingham City, just days after another Champions League loss to Barcelona, remains a low point for Arsenal.

    The loss highlighted the complete lack of character and desire in the current setup, especially when compared with teams of yesteryear.

2010-11: Sebastien Squillaci Joins from Seville

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    In 2011, the only signing Arsenal made was the disastrous capture of the inept Sebastien Squillaci.

    That summer, Eduardo, Sol Campbell (for the second time), Mikael Silvestre and former captain William Gallas were all allowed to leave the club.

2011-13: Champions League Gap Growing Bigger

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    On February 15, 2012, AC Milan destroyed Arsenal at the San Siro in a 4-0 mauling.

    Arsene Wenger is known for not reacting in a knee-jerk manner to defeats or major incidents and is famed for not wanting to talk about these type of incidents in the heat of the moment.

    That didn't happen following the Milan defeat.

    A furious Wenger walked out into the mix zone and absolutely lambasted his team for their gutless performance and even said their defensive lapses were worrying for the rest of the season.

    It was a calculated gamble that paid off, as Wenger refused to allow his team to wallow in defeat. In the face of adversity and a crumbling season, he inspired his team to claw back from their 10-point deficit to Tottenham Hotspur before overtaking them to claim third in the table.

    The same happened in February 2013, when Bayern Munich destroyed the Gunners at Highbury.

    It remains to be seen whether they will get back into the top four, let alone claim a third-place finish.

2012: Robin Van Persie Leaves for Manchester United

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    After scoring 132 goals in 277 games Robin van Persie became the second Arsenal captain in a row to transfer out of the club for pastures new in 2012.

    The Dutchman joined Manchester United for the princely sum of £24 million. He had scored a breathtaking 59 goals in his last 81 games for the Gunners and was rightly hailed in the same light as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of goal scoring return.

    He was replaced by Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud by Arsene Wenger. Combined the duo have scored 17 goals. Van Persie's return since joining United is 23 from 32 games.

2012: Under Fire for Not Winning Trophies

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    Coming under attack at the clubs AGM in October 2012, Arsene Wenger had this to say to the disenchanted Arsenal fans who questioned why the club has not won a trophy since 2008:

    "I would like to come back to one thing. We speak about trophies. For me, there are five trophies - the first is to win the Premier League, the second is to win the Champions League, the third is to qualify for the Champions League, the fourth is to win the FA Cup and the fifth is to win the League Cup."

    For Arsenal fans, finishing third or fourth does equate to silverware.

2012: An Incredibly Tough Year for Arsene Wenger Amidst Growing Discontent

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    Arsene Wenger enjoyed a torrid year at Arsenal in 2012.

    Between fan protestspoor results, falling to 10th place in the English Premier League for the first time since 1994, calls for his head and the club's AGM in October being hijacked by irate fans, to say that 2012 was been a tough year for the Arsenal boss would be the understatement of the footballing year.

    Despite a hard 2012, Wenger still managed to guide the Gunners to a respectable third-place finish in the Premier League in May. They made it as far as the Round of 16 in the Champions League, where a disastrous first-leg performance undermined a heroic fight back in the second leg. And, most importantly for the board and club, Arsenal continues to make a profit.

2013: Arguing with Journalists an Increasing Trend

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    It is a rare thing indeed for Arsene Wenger to lose his temper at a press conference.

    We have all seen the Frenchman kick bottles, scream, shout and jump up and down on the sidelines in anger and frustration over the years. But he has never lost it at a press conference before.

    In a calm and measured tone, he attacked a journalist's integrity for printing an untrue story about him signing a new deal at Arsenal.

    Wenger's view was that the article was printed with the sole view of polarising Arsenal's fans on the back of a poor defeat to Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup.

2013 and Beyond: Where Next for Arsene Wenger?

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    At 63 years of age, there is still plenty of gas left in Arsene Wenger's tank.

    The question remains, though: Where do Arsenal and Arsene go from here?

    There is little doubt that the Gunners have been asset stripped since 2004 by a board who continue to make profits year on year.

    From the highs of doubles, unbeaten seasons and influencing the entire English game, Arsene Wenger is now in the unhappy place of being looked upon as being on his downturn.

    The club have not helped his cause by holding onto the purse strings, but Wenger is complicit in this by backing their economic stance and refusing to repair the obvious problems in his team.

    Profits are great, and Arsenal continue to be the fourth-highest wage-spending team in the Premier League. But it would seem that "breaking even" has become a dirty phrase in the corridors of power at the Emirates.

    The Gunners' cause has not been helped by the rise of Chelsea or Manchester City or by the gradual improvement of Tottenham Hotspur.

    Spurs' rise has coincided with Arsenal's fall, and at this very moment in time it mirrors the changing of the guard in the late-'80s.

    During that period, Spurs were the dominant force in North London and had a similar top four record to the modern Gunners. However, Irving Scholar took over the club in the late-'80s and immediately set about selling star players and asset stripping the club.

    Arsenal took advantage with a good manager in George Graham, and the rest is history.

    Are Spurs now in the same place as Arsenal were in the mid-to-late-'80s? Are Arsenal in the same place as Spurs?

    If the current trend continues, the power will shift, and Spurs will go on to challenge for the title.

    Arsenal will only have themselves to blame for their demise, and Arsene Wenger owns a large portion of the blame.

    Only time will tell if the current trend has gone too far or of Wenger can repair the damage. To do it, he will need to rebuild his team completely.

    Without that, Arsenal will never challenge for another trophy under Arsene Wenger.

    All statistics provided by www.soccerbase.com, www.premierleague.com, www.arsenal.com

    You can follow me on Twitter @WillieGannon