Arsène Wenger OBE is the longest serving and most successful Arsenal manager of all time. Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that he has singlehandedly created the second Arsenal Golden Age, while at the same time revolutionising English top division football.
The first Arsenal Golden Age ran of course from 1930 to 1953, encompassing the careers of Herbert Chapman, Joe Shaw, George Allison and Tom Whittaker.
When Chapman joined the club in 1925, Shaw, Allison and Whittaker were already firmly established at the club. Shaw took over upon Chapman’s death, Allison then took the reigns of the first team as Shaw moved back to overseeing the Reserves, and finally in 1947, after Allison had continued the work and then almost single handedly kept the then homeless Arsenal going during the second world war, he handed over to the man who had played for Arsenal in the 1920s, and been with the club ever since: Tom Whittaker.
During those years Arsenal won the league seven times, and the FA Cup three times, created a new record number of points under the old 42 games, two points for a win system, and won the the league three times in a row.
Arsène Wenger was born 22 October 1949 and has managed the club since 1996 and is the club’s longest-serving manager. He has won the league three times, and the FA Cup six times: one trophy short of the achievement of the entire first Golden Age of the club. This makes him the joint top most successful FA Cup manager in football history along with George Ramsay (who won the cup six times between 1887 and 1920). Mr Wenger’s victories also made Arsenal the most successful FA Cup club of all time.
Additionally, he became the first manager to win the Double at Arsenal twice, the first and so far only manager to take a club through a whole season unbeaten (with the exception of the 1888/9 Preston team who played just 22 league matches in the inaugural season of the Football League).
Indeed the magnitude of the Unbeaten Season achievement can be see by the fact that Preston’s unbeaten run only lasted 24 matches (losing in the second match of the second League season), while Arsenal’s run was 49 unbeaten.
Furthermore Mr Wenger has overseen Arsenal during a time of enormous change in football and at the club, including most significantly the building of the new Emirates Stadium, with all the financial privation for the playing staff that this included, and the emergence of super-rich owners at other clubs who have been able to invest larger sums of money into football than were ever previously imagined. Throughout the whole process Arsenal have remained profitable.
Leaving aside the brief managerial spells of Pat Rice (4 games) and Joe Shaw (23 games) Mr Wenger is also the most successful Arsenal manager in terms of success rate on the pitch, winning over 57% of his matches.
Indeed as the chart below showing the ten most successful Arsenal managers reveals, despite the higher number of games he has managed (which would normally include eras of rebuilding) Mr Wenger has outshone all the rest.
6 FA Cup
|20 Feb 1899
|James Punch McEwen
1 FA Cup
1 FA Cup
2 Lg Cup
1 FA Cup
* Achieved in the second division.
And all this can be said before we even consider Mr Wenger’s penchant for attractive attacking football, his ability to take totally unknown or forgotten players and rejuvenate their careers, and his desire to nurture young players and turn them into majestic footballers. From his ability to get the best out of Tony Adams in the latter part of his career, to his signing of Vieira for £3.5m, from the development of Thierry Henry into the greatest goalscorer since the Chapman era, to his revolutionising of the way players train and eat, and on to the designing of new youth and training facilities, he has not only revolutionised Arsenal, but also football.
Mr Wenger was awarded the Légion d’Honneur, in 2002 and in 2007 he became only the second Arsenal manager to have a bronze bust commissioned by the club. His only compatriot in terms of this award was of course, Herbert Chapman.
There is, I believe, a difference between those supporters who have only known Arsenal under Mr Wenger, and those of us, now getting on a bit, who can recall some of the moments after the first Golden Era when Arsenal went 17 years without a trophy and indeed without ever looking likely to get one.
Those of us who recall those less exciting, less stimulating years, know how difficult it is not only for a club to win the FA Cup or the League, but also how difficult it is to maintain that success. Yet Mr Wenger has kept Arsenal in the forefront of English football throughout his entire reign at the club, and it is to that achievement, as much as anything else, we all owe him our thanks.
At present the Arsenal History Society is seeking to persuade Arsenal FC to erect a monument to the four great heros of the first Arsenal Golden Age: Chapman, Shaw, Allison, Whittaker.
It would be presumptuous to erect any sort of tribute to the creator of the second Golden Age while he is still at the club. But you can be sure that if we are still here when Mr Wenger retires, we will be at the forefront of a the cries for a statue to the man who created all the club’s modern successes.
Happy Birthday Mr Wenger.