As we prepare to bid farewell to Wenger, there are a plethora of memories which come to mind. From star signings to transfer masterminds, Les Boss has done just about everything that a manager could do in his career. Well, that is short of winning a European cup.
Here are my five favorite Wenger moments.
A Farewell to Wenger
When Jose Mourinho came to England in 2004, it was on the back of a Champions League triumph with Porto. At the time, Wenger’s Arsenal were basking in the ecstasy of their undefeated season. However, when the two forces collided, the blue section of London came out on top.
Since that first Chelsea appointment for Mourinho until 2017, Arsène Wenger did not beat the Portuguese. For 12 matches, the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ avoided defeat against the man he dubbed a ‘voyeur’ and a ‘specialist in failure’.
His war of words with Wenger is well-documented, although the Frenchman is not the only manager to butt heads with the current Manchester United boss. In fact, over the course of his three stints in England, Mourinho has made a habit of making bitter enemies amongst his colleagues.
Rafael Benitez, Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola and, fairly recently, Frank de Boer have all engaged in wars of words with Jose Mourinho.
Perhaps, however, none of the Portuguese’s nemeses quite provide the contrast that Wenger does. While Mourinho is happy to poke eyes, spit and drag others through the mud with his words, Arsène is generally outspoken, reserved and usually has nice words for others.
So, when Arsène Wenger finally beat Jose Mourinho in May 2017, it was a victory not just for him, but all those wronged by the ‘Special One’. It also felt like a win for all of the nice guys of the world, much like Les Professor.
Of course, Mourinho blames the loss on his involvement with the Europa League. Just one more reason to hate Mou! Let’s just hope that when he says his final farewell to Wenger it will be after a loss in a few weeks’ time.
Sent Off at Old Trafford
Over the years, Wenger has visited Old Trafford plenty of times. However, the single match which sticks in the mind took place in August 2009. The Red Devils held a slim 2-1 advantage with just minutes to go when Robin van Persie thumped home the equalizer.
However, the Dutchman was offsides, meaning that the Gunners lost the match. In response, Wenger kicked a water bottle in his technical area; a seemingly-meaningless expression of frustration. That is unless your name is Mike Dean.
The referee took exception to the kick and said ‘farewell Wenger’ as he showed the manager red.
The Arsenal manager was forced to abdicate his spot on the bench and move into the stands. The problem? There was no way to enter the stands from the technical area. The solution? A moment which lives in infamy, at least for Gooners.
Most FA Cups
While this isn’t really a single moment, rather seven different moments, but any farewell to Wenger must make mention of his record of most FA Cups won by a single manager.
His first came in 1998, as part of his first double-winning campaign. Arsenal played Newcastle United in the final, with Marc Overmars and a young Nicolas Anelka scoring, and won 2-0.
The Boss had to wait another four years to lift his second FA trophy. This time, Chelsea awaited in the final, but the result was the same; 2-0 to Arsenal. It was also Wenger’s second and final league and cup double.
The Gunners defended their cup the next season, beating Southampton 1-0 in the final. Arsène Wenger then faced off against Sir Alex Ferguson in the 2005 final, which went scoreless for 120 minutes. Jens Lehmann played the hero on the day, as he stopped Paul Scholes’ penalty. The shootout ended 5-4 in favor of Arsenal, seeing Wenger beat his fiercest rival, at least at the time.
However, as you well know, this started the infamous trophy drought, lasting for nine long seasons until the 2014 FA Cup final. Hull City took an unexpected 2-0 lead, giving Gooners flashbacks to the League Cup final against Birmingham City.
The team managed to equalize, sending the game to extra time where Aaron Ramsey struck the winner. The 2015 final held little excitement, as the Arsenal ran out 4-0 winner over Aston Villa.
Then, of course, there was the 2017 FA Cup. Antonio Conte’s Chelsea threatened to take a league and cup double, having wrapped up the Premiership weeks earlier. Wenger out-foxed the Italian to take the cup home in surprising fashion.
Just as with the FA Cups, and ‘farewell Wenger’ article would have to make mention of his two league and cup doubles. However, at the time, such a feat seemed unthinkable for Arsenal, for example in 1997-1998.
Manchester United were heavy favorites to repeat as champions and held a firm lead in the table. Meanwhile, Arsenal had struggled at times, sitting in sixth-place in November. Come spring, however, fortunes changed.
Arsène Wenger took his Arsenal team to Old Trafford in March amid speculation that a United win would seal the trophy. That was not to be. Marc Overmars scored the decisive goal as affairs finished 1-0 to the Arsenal.
Les Professor inspired his team to nine consecutive victories to finish the season on top. They then defeated Newcastle 2-0 in the FA Cup final, for Wenger’ first and the club’s second double.
The next double came just four years later. Arsenal came off a trophyless 2000-2001 season, finishing a distant second-place to Manchester United.
Many changes followed, as the likes of Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Giovanni von Brockhorst joining the club. The results were immediate and fantastic.
Wenger controlled the title challenge for much of the season and wrapped the campaign up in style by lifting the league trophy at Old Trafford. Arsenal then beat a soon-to-be mighty Chelsea in the FA Cup final to cap off a wonderful season.
If you didn’t know this would be number one, perhaps you need to read up about the club’s history.
My farewell to Wenger wraps up with perhaps the greatest sporting achievement ever seen in the Premier League. Arsenal undefeated 2003-2004 campaign featuring the Invincibles.
In case you didn’t know, Arsenal finished the league season with exactly zero losses; the only time in Premier League history that happened and just the second time in the history of top-flight football in England.
26 wins and 12 draws, totalling 90 points, 73 goals for, 26 goals allowed and an 11-point gap at the top. Not to mention Thierry Henry winning the Premier League golden boot with 30 goals. The talismanic striker also claimed the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award and the FWA Footballer of the year.
Meanwhile, Arsène Wenger took home the Barclaycard Manager of the Year Award, as well as the Manager of the Month award twice.
Farewell to Wenger
Going back through the years, thinking of all the memories this man gave to us is really a cathartic experience. It makes me feel as though, as bad as recent season have been, that there is no doubt Arsène Wenger gave Arsenal FC his all. Blood, sweat and tears proverbially speaking.
I for one hope that this squad can deliver the one accomplishment that has been too big an ask for the Boss; a European Cup. He reached two finals, the 2000 UEFA Cup final and the 2006 Champions League final, but went home sour on each occasion.
A Europa League trophy would be the greatest send-off for Arsenal’s greatest-ever manager.
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