When Wenger took over, when van Gaal took over. A comparison.

The Manchester United manager, Louis van Gaal, has warned that the club cannot expect an immediate “miracle” from the club’s new British record signing Angel Di Maria, as he admitted that he will have torn up the squad he inherited by the time the transfer window closes on Monday.

“You have to work for the miracle and he knows that,” the Dutchman said of Di Maria, when the £59.7m Argentine was presented as United’s new No 7 at Old Trafford. “I hope he shall give us good results but we cannot expect after two days’ training session that he is the miracle that I am already reading about.”

Van Gaal disclosed that, in a conversation with his players after lunch, he had told them that the group could be radically different by Monday. “I said, maybe after this weekend we shall have another group because players shall go away and others shall come in.” He also indicated a fear that United are being quoted inflated prices

So what happened when Arsene Wenger took over at Highbury?

In 1995/6 Arsenal were managed by Bruce Rioch and came 5th in the league, 19 points behind the winners, Man U.

In 2013/14 Man U were managed by Moyes and came 7th in the league, 22 points below the champions Man City.

So there is a difference of a couple of places, and three points between these two seasons, prior to the new man coming in.

In 1996/7, the first under Wenger, Arsenal came 3rd in the league, seven points behind the winners Man U.

If we look at the team that Mr Wenger inherited we can pick up some interesting facts…


Name Age Joined Games Goals
Seaman 31 1990 38 0
Dixon 31 1988 38 2
Winterburn 31 1987 36 2
Bould 32 1988 19 0
Adams 28 1983 21 1
Platt 29 1995 29 6
Wright 31 1991 31 15
Merson 27 1985 38 5
Bergkamp 26 1995 33 11
Helder 26 1995 24 1
Linighan 33 1990 18 0
Keown 29 1984 34 0
Parlour 22 1992 22 0
Hartson 20 1995 19 4
Jensen 30 1992 15 0
Kiwomya 25 1995 15 0


In terms of the defence, they were aging, and Mr Wenger either had to replace them or to ensure that they could stay at the highest level for several years to come.  Dixon continued until 2002, Winterburn left in 2000, Steve Bould in 1999, Keown in 2004, Tony Adams 2002.   In short, Wenger kept these older players going for up to seven years.

Now when we look back, some people argue that Wenger was given a brilliant squad on a plate – but this is not quite the case.  Tony Adams had had his problems, Bergkamp was getting better, but had not set Arsenal alight from the off.  Jensen, Kiwomya, Hartson, Wright, Platt, Helder, Linighan,… questions could be asked about all of them for different reasons, and that makes seven members of the core 17 man squad.

Arsene Wenger’s transfers in his first season (which we should remember was not a complete season because of his wish to finish off his season in Japan) make interesting reading:

In came Garde, Vieira and Anelka.  Out went Dikov, McGoldrick, Hillier, Hartson, Linighan and Morrow.  The cost of those three incoming transfers was £4m.

In this summer of 2014 Man U have brought in Herrera, di Maria, Rojo, and Shaw for a total of £131m.  Prices gave gone up of course but not 3200%.

Arsenal sold or let go six first team players that first Wengerian year, Man U have let go about the same number – removing the inevitable releases of players who haven’t quite made it or who have retired.

So the clear out level has been about the same, but the emphasis has been on buying in bigger names, rather than players like Garde, Vieira and Anelka, players that I doubt any of us had heard of.   Indeed I’ve always thought that Remi Garde was there to be Arsene’s man in the dressing room – clearly a short term purchase designed to help get the message across to the likes of Tony Adams who made his infamous “He’s French; what does he know about English football?” comment to the press on hearing the news of the new manager.

So a different approach – and of course there might be more transfers at Man U to come, but if Man U wants a target (and the new manager has been speaking of such things) the progress of Arsenal under Wenger in those opening years was something to be believed.

After being third in 1996/7, in his first truncated season, Arsene Wenger took Arsenal to the Double in 1997/8, winning the league by one point and beating Newcastle in the cup final.  That must be Man U’s target with the new manager and all his expenditure, but it is quite an act to follow.  Third in the first season, the Double in the second.

The books
The complete Arsenal Anniversary series is to be found on the Arsenal History Society site.


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