Just how does Mr Wenger’s 20 years compare with the 20 years before him?

By Tony Attwood

It is interesting I think to compare the 20 years of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal with the previous 20 years.

Of course in any statistics a cut off point in the measurement can change the way the numbers work – for example by working on 20 years we avoid 1975/76 when Arsenal came 17th in the league, and 1974/5 when we came 16th.  So this makes the 20 years before Mr Wenger look better than it would do if we were measuring, for example 22 years of Wenger against 22 years before Wenger.

But 20 years is interesting because in the pre-Wenger period it takes us from the start of Neill’s reign, through Howe and Graham.  And if we include the current incomplete season we have 20 years of Wenger.

I’ve included the Community Shield, although it is not really a trophy like other trophies, just for the sake of completeness.

You will see that at the start of the list there are 12 years without a League win, which is where we are now in the Wenger reign.

Season Manager Pos FAC Lge Cup Com Shield Europe Pos
The Pre-Wenger Era
1976–7 Neill 8th R5 QF
1977-8 Neill 5th RU SF
1978-9 Neill 7th W R2
Uefa Cup
1979-0 Neill 4th RU QF
1980-1 Neill 3rd R3 R4
1981–2  Neill 4th R3 R4
1982-3 Neill 10th SF SF
1983-4 Neill/Howe 6th R3 R4
1984-5 Howe 7th R4 R3
1985-6 Howe/Burtenshaw 7th R5 QF
1986-7 Graham 4th QF W
1987-8 Graham 6th QF RU
1988-9 Graham 1st R3 R3
1989-0 Graham 4th R4 R4 RU
1990-1 Graham 1st SF R4 RU
1991-2 Graham 4th R3 R3 W European R2
1992-3 Graham 10th W W
1993-4 Graham 4th R4 R4 RU CWC W
1994-5 Graham/Houston 12th R3 QF CWC RU
1995-6 Rioch 5th R3 SF
Average league position 5.4
Pre Wenger totals 2 wins 2 wins 2 wins
1 win
1 win
The Wenger Era
1996/7 Wenger 3rd R4 R4 Uefa Cup R1
1997/8 Wenger 1st W SF Uefa Cup R1
1998/9 Wenger 2nd SF R4 W Champions GS1
1999/0 Wenger 2nd R4 R4 Champions GS1
2000/1 Wenger 2nd RU R3 Champions QF
2001/2 Wenger 1st W QF Champions GS2
2002/3 Wenger 2nd W R3
Champions GS2
2003/4 Wenger 1st SF SF
Champions QF
2004/5 Wenger 2nd W QF
Champions R16
2005/6 Wenger 4th R4 SF
Champions RU
2006/7 Wenger 4th R5 RU
Champions R16
2007/8 Wenger 3rd R5 SF
Champions QF
2008/9   Wenger 4th SF QF
Champions SF
2009/10 Wenger 3rd R4 QF
Champions QF
2010/11 Wenger 4th QF RU
Champions R16
2011/12 Wenger 3rd R5 QF
Champions R16
2012/13   Wenger 4th R5 QF
Champions R16
2013/4 Wenger 4th W R4
Champions R16
2014/5 Wenger 3rd W R3 W Champions R16
2015/6 Wenger W Champions
Wenger Totals 3 wins 6 wins   5 wins  
Average league position 2.6

Of course there are two big issues that the figures don’t reveal.  One is that during the pre-Wenger era there was no stadium rebuild – Highbury was changed however, into an all seater stadium, but the costs were very modest compared with the building of the new stadium.  In the Wenger era the Emirates Stadium was built and financed.

The second difference is that in the Wenger era two clubs – Man C and Chelsea increased their wealth beyond anything imaginable.

One can put this another way by saying that in the earlier era it was easier for smaller teams to rise up quickly and capture the title.  Nottingham Forest, having been 3rd in the second division the year before became champions of the 1st division in 1978 for the one and only time.

In 1981 Aston Villa won the league for the first time since 1910.  In 1983 Watford were runners-up of the first division having been in the fourth division in 1977/8 – an early sign of what investment could do (this being with Elton John’s money).

In 1984 Southampton came second having come up in 1978.  Everton won the title in 1985 for the first time in 15 years…  Thus the spectre of a club such as Leicester suddenly rising to the upper part of the table was much more common than it is now.   Today, although clearly it is possible for clubs to rise up suddenly, it is less common.

The table of Arsenal managers measured by their win percentage (excluding those managers who were in position for under 100 games) gives us these figures…

Pos. Name From To Played Win% Top 4 Honours
1. Arsène Wenger October 1996 1066 57.50 18 3 League
6 FA Cup
2. Harry Bradshaw August 1899 May 1904 189 50.79 3*
3. Herbert Chapman June 1925 Jan 1934 403 49.88 4 2 League
1 FA Cup
4 George Graham May 1986 Feb 1995 460 48.91 6 2 League
1 FA Cup
2 Lg Cup
5. Tom Whittaker June 1947 October  1956 429 47.09 3 2 League
1 FA Cup
6 George Allison May 1934 May 1947 279 46.24 3 2 League
1 FA Cup
7 Don Howe Dec 1983 Mar  1986 117 46.15
8 Terry Neill July 1976 Dec 1983 416 44.95 2 1 FA Cup
9 The Committee August 1893 May 1897 118 44.92
10 Bertie Mee June 1966 May 1976 539 44.71 3 1 League
1 FA Cup      1 Fairs C.
10 Phil Kelso July 1904 Feb 1908 152 41.45
This shows us that by all the measures we have, Arsene Wenger has been the most successful manager Arsenal has ever had.  This doesn’t mean he should never leave – obviously at some time he will leave, but it should make it clear just what sort of task the new man will have.
He will not only have to win trophies, but also be the most successful manager Arsenal have ever had.

You might also enjoy the latest in the series of Arsenal in the 70s:  

Index to our main series of articles

8 Replies to “Just how does Mr Wenger’s 20 years compare with the 20 years before him?”

  1. I actually think that Arsene’s heir – if picked carefully, that is – shouldn’t have problems.

    Wenger’s heir won’t have to make a new stadium or to think about off-the-pitch issues of important players.

    Wenger’s heir will have a healthy core consisted of players like Cech, Bellerin, Monreal, Koscielny, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Chambers, Coquelin, Ramsey, Cazorla, Welbeck, Giroud, Wilshere, Ozil, Alexis…and talents like Bielik, Iwobi, Akpom. If you think I have missed a few notable players, it’s not a coincidence, for various reasons.

    Also, Wenger’s heir will have a club brought from a three-star hotel lobby to the five-star hotel penthouse. He won’t have to sell best players to survive. He won’t have to watch rivals overpaying players he wanted to sign first (Mata, Hazard, Cristiano Ronaldo).

    Actually, I think it will be an easy ride for Wenger’s heir as he won’t have to drive a stick – Wenger has turned the vehicle to automatic.

    So, Wenger’s heir, whoever you will be, shift it to “D” and enjoy the ride in a vehicle someone else had prepared for you.

  2. Thank you. HIs record is astonishing. I also remember the times he was blatantly robbed of getting a few extra trophies over the years by some curious decisions. But going by the facts only- his record is incredible.

  3. But why can’t Wenger shift it to “D” already? It has been years. I actually think he has shifted to “D” already, only issue is that he hits the same pothole and gets a puncture while on his way to the casino to get his jackpot. He then REFUSES to patch the pothole sufficiently or change to better tyres or steer clear of the damn pothole.

  4. I don’t think it is quite so clear cut that Wenger is better than Graham.

    If you look at the trophies won per year of tenure, Graham was more successful than Wenger. Graham also won a European trophy (and a Nayim lob away from winning 2) and a higher proportion of Graham’s wins were the league itself, i.e. arguably more difficult. Moreover, when Graham took over, Arsenal were a moribund mid-table team. Whilst that is also arguably true of Wenger, he also inherited the famous back 4, Ian Wright and (arguably) Denis Bergkamp (although Wenger may have had something to do with that purchase). If Wenger had that lot available this year the PL would be almost sewn up by now!

    Wenger wins in other respects – consistent top 4 / CL, rebuilding the stadium, no ‘bungs’, and of course the visual feast that much of the football has been over the last 20 years. Both are great managers, of their time.

  5. Wenger has gotten us into the Champions League every year since 1998-99.

    Graham got us into its predecessor, the European Cup, exactly once, and bottled it at home against an easily takeable Benfica side.

    Granted, he was denied other chances: Only the League Champions from the previous year got in, and the first time Graham did that, UEFA overreacted to Heysel and kept all English teams out for something that was as much the fault of Juventus fans’ stupidity as it was Liverpool fans’ aggression.

    In 1990-91, Graham missing going unbeaten by 1 game and the Double due to losing a Semifinal to Spurs. Wenger has won the Double twice, in 1997-98 and 2001-02; and went unbeaten in 2003-04.

    True, Wenger has never won a European trophy. But he’s had seasons in which he’s won more games in Europe than Graham did in his entire career. The Cup Winners’ Cup was the 3rd-most important trophy in Europe, of so little consequence that UEFA folded it into the UEFA Cup/Europa League, so that it doesn’t even exist anymore.

    Don’t tell me about Graham’s back 4, or back 5 if you want to include Seaman in goal. When Wenger came in, those guys were on their last legs. Wenger rejuvenated them, and did more with them than Graham did. Furthermore, he replaced every one of them with a player of at least similar, in some cases better, ability: Seaman with Lehmann, Dixon with Lauren, Winterburn with Cole, Adams with Campbell, Bould/Keown with Kolo Toure.

    “When Graham took over, Arsenal were a moribund mid-table team.” And when Graham left, Arsenal were an even worse team. In the last 4 season Graham began as Arsenal manager, Arsenal finished 4th, 10th (behind Spurs), 4th and 12th (behind Spurs), and 5th in the Rioch interregnum. If Wenger had ever finished below 4th, or behind Spurs, the Graham fanboys would want him sacked, slapped, shot, hanged, decapitated, drawn and quartered — not necessarily in that order.

    And, let’s not forget, Graham truly embarrassed us with the reason he had to leave — which had nothing to do with our reduced level of competitiveness.

    Yet, somehow, Graham gets a free pass for doing things that are, both literally and figuratively, beneath Wenger’s record.

    Maybe it’s because Wenger is French, while Graham is English.

    He’s not. He’s a proud Scot. Something the yobs tend to forget.

    The bottom line is this: When Graham took over, Arsenal were one of several clubs in England with a nice history, but not really relevant at the time, such as Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leeds United, Sunderland, Everton. When he left, Arsenal had bolstered that history, but were actually in more trouble than when he arrived.

    When Wenger took over, Arsenal were still in that trouble. Today, Arsenal are one of the most respected football clubs on the planet, with the best stadium in the country, achievements won the right way, which Manchester Unite and Chelsea cannot truthfully claim, and that one achievement that no one else can claim.

    None of this means that Wenger is the right manager to have next season. But is there a manager out there who can keep Arsenal going even at the level it’s at now? Pep Guardiola has managed 2 teams: Barcelona and Bayern. When he starts at Manchester City, we will, for the first time, see him manage a team for whom diving and dirty tackles are actually punished, rather than encouraged. He will get exposed as a fraud. Jurgen Klopp will have his first off-season to spend big, and we’ll see which is the real Klopp: The guy who got Dortmund to the CL Final, or the guy who nearly got them relegated just 2 years later.

    As the old song goes, Wenger may be right, he may be wrong, but you know you’re going to miss him when he’s gone.

  6. “The bottom line is this: When Graham took over, Arsenal were one of several clubs in England with a nice history, but not really relevant at the time, such as Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leeds United, Sunderland, Everton. When he left, Arsenal had bolstered that history, but were actually in more trouble than when he arrived….”

    Graham did a great job in turning Arsenal round although a fair percentage of that was with players that had been brought on in the youth team under Don Howe but he used the resources he had and produced a winning team. We were just treading water before, regularly finishing below Spurs, West Ham, QPR and miles away from being champions. The gates where at a post war low (below Spurs in 1981,1982,1983 and fairly equal in 1985). He took over of a club of fairly limited ambition and lacking focus. That he managed to win the league twice and provide the greatest end to a season in football history stands him up as a great Arsenal manager.

    “… but were actually in more trouble than when he arrived….”

    I just don’t get that at all?

  7. I am aware of that 🙂 and I remember how poor his last side was but Arsenal as a club “in more trouble than when he arrived” I don’t buy that. GG was vital in turning Arsenal round otherwise we could have just drifted like Villa, Wolves,Spurs or Everton. I think it also almost as difficult to compare Wenger to Graham and it is to compare Graham to Chapman. The way football has moved on is huge. I rememeber the first time I saw Limpar play and it was so memorable as overseas players we so rare at the time. I never saw Vladimir Petrovic as I was too young (I did repaint the hair on my Subbuteo team) but I remember Allan Simonsen at Charlton and going to see him play as it was something so odd at the time.

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