Since the retirement of Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of last season, Arsenal's Arsene Wenger is far and away the longest-serving manager in the Premier League. The Gunners may be without a trophy for eight years, but there is no doubt that they are far better off now than they would have been had the Frenchman never taken charge.
It was October 1996 when it all started for Wenger, with a win against Blackburn Rovers and a ban on unhealthy food. Since that time he has taken charge of a further 998 games for the club, with his 1,000th this Saturday away to Chelsea. Here, Sports Mole takes a look at what Wenger has achieved in his 17-and-a-half years at the club.
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Instant success: 1996-1998
Wenger's methods may have initially been questioned by some of the senior players at the club when he took over, but it did not take long at all for the manager's approach to be justified. He was a relative unknown having previously managed Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, but it was clear from day one that he had a strong emphasis on the technical and fitness side of the game.
The Gunners had finished fifth under previous manager Bruce Rioch, which was a relative success, but Wenger managed to improve on this straight away. By the end of the season they had comfortably qualified for the UEFA Cup with a third-place finish in the league even before he had fully had the time to stamp his own authority on the team.
That did come, however, the very next season. In battle number one of many with United and Sir Alex Ferguson that he would endure over the years, Wenger somehow managed to guide his team to the title in his first full season in charge. They were 12 points behind the Red Devils going into the last month of the season but managed to overturn the deficit and claim their first Premier League title. To add to that, they achieved the FA Cup double to fully justify the initial strange appointment of Wenger.
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Not quite enough: 1998-2001
It has been a theme of Wenger's reign at Arsenal that he and the club's fans have had to take the good with the bad. For every success there are disappointments, and following the initial high of league and cup wins he had to endure his first spell of bad luck, frustration and defeat in his battle with Ferguson. United did not take kindly to events of the 1997-98 season and responded with the greatest achievement in their history: the league, FA Cup and Champions League treble.
Arsenal were with them almost every step of the way on two fronts, but Wenger was unable to stop United in the league, where they finished runners-up, or the FA Cup, ending as beaten semi-finalists against them at Villa Park. The next season even threw up a new disappointment: defeat in a European final. Once again in 2000 they were beaten to the title by United and with it came a penalty shootout defeat to Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup final.
The new 2000-01 season started in the same vein with a loss to Sunderland, after which Wenger was handed a hefty 12-match suspension for threatening an official, although this was successfully appealed. For the third season in a row there was double-disappointment for Arsenal. Once more they had to settle for second place in the Premier League and despite dominating Liverpool in the FA Cup final they went down 2-1.
The Invincibles era: 2001-2004
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There was talk of Wenger leaving the club in the summer of 2001, but he instead agreed terms on a new four-year deal and promised that he was fully committed to Arsenal. This was the year that Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Fredrik Ljungberg would start to show their colours. Sylvain Wiltord also managed to make himself a cult hero with the winning goal at Old Trafford as Arsenal claimed the league title at the home of their great rivals. They had already beaten Chelsea 2-0 in the FA Cup a few days before so were back on top.
The 2002-03 season saw Wenger claim - when his side had surpassed United's 29-game unbeaten record - that his team could go a whole season unbeaten, but a month later they were beaten by Everton. The stretch was a precursor of what was to come, however, as Arsenal retained the FA Cup but once more slipped behind United in the Premier League race. Then was to come Wenger's finest hour, conveniently just after his honorary OBE in June 2003.
Some suggested that he was misguided with his claim that Arsenal could go through the entire season unbeaten, but Wenger was vindicated as, led by the brilliant Patrick Vieira, the Gunners did exactly that on the way to another league title in 2004. This feat has not come close to being bettered since and long after talk of any titles has receded it will be remembered as Wenger's greatest moment. It came to an end in ugly circumstances in October 2004 with a defeat to United - who else? - and the 'battle of the buffet' in the tunnel after the whistle.
Legacy of the Emirates: 2004-2007
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Not only will the memory of the Invincibles live on, but so too will the impressive Emirates Stadium, where the Gunners currently play their home games. Highbury was a memorable ground, but with Wenger's guidance the club upgraded to a 60,000-seater, which was first used at the start of the 2006-07 season. He was part of the project team and pushed the club to take it forward. It has led to perceived under-spending for a few years, which was finally ended this season with the purchase of Mesut Ozil.
Unfortunately, on the pitch, the new stadium was joined by some disappointing results. One thing that Wenger cannot claim, but is desperate to, is success in Europe and the big chance went the season before their move to the Emirates. Jens Lehmann was sent off early on against Barcelona as the Spaniards came from behind to win the Champions League final 2-1.
Barren spell and resurgence? 2008-present
There have been calls - mainly from outside the club - for Wenger or Arsenal to call things a day between the two parties, but a large part of Arsenal's on-pitch struggles since the opening of the Emirates has been down to the need to return the club to profitability. Wenger has, in fact, with limited funding compared to the rest of the top Premier League teams, kept them in the Champions League until they could finally start to spend again this season.
There have been some big low points in the last six years, including losing Robin van Persie to Manchester United, being knocked out of the League Cup by Bradford City and almost being beaten into fourth by Tottenham Hotspur, but now back in the race for the title Arsenal's difficult period looks behind them. Ahead of his 1,000th game, Wenger has a fine legacy to look back on and maybe, just maybe, there is more success to come in what will likely be many more matches in charge.
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