Today, Arsenal manager celebrates his 1000th game in charge of the Gunners. He has the opportunity to celebrate it in style with a big win at Stamford Bridge and what would be his first win over rival Jose Mourinho.
His team see themselves in with a chance to end a nine year trophy drought, in which Wenger transformed the financial power of Arsenal and built the foundations of this new era with the bricks people threw at him.
Arsenal are two games, against Wigan and Hull or Sheffield United, away from winning the FA Cup and with nine games to go in the league sit third, four points behind leaders Chelsea, with a game in hand. These 999 games so far have bought with them a mixture of emotions.
From winning two Doubles, going through an entire season unbeaten and being the first English team to win in the Bernabeu, San Siro, Allianz Arena and Signul Iduna Park as well as many other famous European and Domestic wins, Arsenal under Wenger have had crashing lows such as a Champions League Final defeat in 2006, a dramatic title collapse in 2008 among other years, a Carling Cup Final defeat in 201, 8-2 and 6-1 thrashings at the hands of Manchester United and Arsenal's first home loss since 1993 against Spurs in 2010.
Regardless, lasting 1000 games in such a fickle industry as football is an incredible achievement, and building foundations that should mean that whoever may replace him will have solid building blocks to create a dynasty on.
And then there are the players. Wenger has developed a reputation for transforming players' careers and finding hidden gems who have developed into world beaters. His revolutionary dieting and exercise styles added years onto the careers of the likes of Tony Adams and Lee Dixon.
Thierry Henry came to Arsenal in 1999 a winger whose career was falling to pieces, Wenger turned him into one of the greatest ever strikers. The likes of Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Cesc Fabregas, Nicolas Anelka and Robin van Persie all owe a lot to him and in the present the likes of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey were taken under Wenger's wing and are now becoming world beaters.
Many of you will have seen around the internet various people picking their best and worst Wenger XIs as his 1000th anniversary draws closer. Here is what I believe is Wenger's strongest. This has been a very tough decision for me and I'm sure many will disagree. Feel free to make your own decisions in the comments below. I've gone for a 4-4-2 formation as that was the formation with which Wenger won all his trophies.
Goalkeeper: David Seaman
One of a group of successful players who were at Arsenal before Wenger arrived, Seaman won two League titles and three FA Cups under Wenger and many 'keepers tried and failed to match him before Jens Lehmann came along. I choose Seaman over Lehmann because the German never quite achieved the success of Seaman. Whether or not that is his fault is a different matter.
I came very close to picking Lee Dixon or even Bacary Sagna over him, but he is one of Wenger's success stories. He came to Arsenal as a midfielder and was turned into an 'Invincible' right-back. He was cool under pressure, most notably his winning penalty against Tottenham in 2002 to keep Arsenal's title bid in check, he had great defensive awareness and had a great understanding with all the Arsenal defenders he played alongside.
Centre-Half: Tony Adams (C)
It is impossible not to choose the great Arsenal captain not just because of the two doubles he achieved under Wenger but what went before. He captained Arsenal to four league titles in three different decades: the only man in English history to do so, he won the European Cup Winner's Cup in 1994, the domestic cup 'double' in 1993. It is worth mentioning that he became Arsenal captain at just 21 and never gave up that post until he retired aged 36. A stalwart in Arsenal's defence even in his twilight years, he formed devastating partnerships with every centre-back he played with, including Arsenal's all-English back four with Winterburn, Bould and Dixon and a brief spell in his final season with Sol Campbell. The one club man made 672 appearances for Arsenal and his dominance at set-pieces meant he managed to score forty-seven goals, the most famous of which was his slightly bizarre goal from open play where he was put through on goal by Steve Bould to score Arsenal's fourth and final goal in Arsenal's 4-0 win over Everton to seal the 1998 Premier League title. His celebration after that goal was immortalised in bronze in 2011.
Centre-Half: Sol Campbell
Again it is tempting to pick one of Wenger's earlier players, but Sol Campbell's success runs too deep to leave him out. He crossed the North London divide from Tottenham to Arsenal, much to the extreme annoyance of Arsenal's neighbours, who went on to see their former captain and leader win the league at White Hart Lane as they would've wanted, but alas it was in Arsenal colours. Not only that, but he was an 'Invincible' and won the double in 2002, the FA Cup in 2003 and 2005 and was a crucial part of Arsenal's Champions League adventure in 2006 where they went 995 minutes without conceding, much of the credit for that goes to Sol as well. He scored the opener in the final, but his heroic defending as Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was sent off went to waste in the last fifteen minutes as Arsenal lost 2-1. However, he will always be remembered as an Arsenal legend and a Spurs Antichrist.
Left-Back: Ashley Cole
Whilst I will gain unpopularity for this choice and it will pain many Arsenal fans who agree to admit it, it seems that Arsenal have not quite been able to replace the great man. Gael Clichy, Kieran Gibbs and Nigel Winterburn have all been fantastic servants to Arsenal and it seems possible that Gibbs could reach incredible heights, but over the years Cole has been the best in the world of times and being one of the 'Invincibles' makes a player very hard to leave out. One of Wenger's success stories in that he brought him through the youth system, Cole won two league titles, three FA Cups and reached the Champions League final before controversially moving to Chelsea.
Right-Wing: Marc Overmars
This one was a toss-up between the Overmars and Freddie Ljungberg to the extent that I was considering choosing both, but you cannot play two right-wingers so I went for the former. Both did not have prolonged personal success and although Ljungberg won more in his time, Overmars was one of Wenger's first signings and was a crucial factor in bringing the club forward, particularly in their style of play. Comfortably his best season was his first, scoring an excellent twelve league goals in thirty-two appearances including Arsenal's first Premier League goal at Old Trafford. He even scored the opener in Arsenal's FA Cup Final win over Newcastle as the Gunners went on to win the double in Wenger's first full season at the club. Perhaps that connection with Wenger is what convinced me to choose him. His Arsenal career fizzled out somewhat after that; he scored just thirteen more league goals in the next two seasons, but he still commanded a staggering £25million fee in his 2000 move to Barcelona which made him the most expensive Dutchman of all time.
Holding Midfield: Patrick Vieira
Who else? Wenger's long serving leader was a crucial part in every single Wenger trophy so far and became a cult hero almost instantly. From his fights with Roy Keane, his defensive organising, his occasional wondergoals (most memorably in 1998 against Newcastle) and the mysterious 'stuff' on the front of his shirt which supposedly helped him breathe, Vieira is a true Arsenal legend. He became captain after Adams's retirement in 2002 and led his team to a double, two further FA Cups and, of course, the "Invincible" season to add to the other double he won in 1998. Although he left somewhat prematurely, his final kick in an Arsenal shirt was the winning penalty of a shootout against Manchester United to win Arsenal the FA Cup, their last trophy to date. 406 appearances and 34 goals in nine years at the club shows what a stalwart he was in the Arsenal lineup and Vieira will always be remembered as one of the greatest ever players to play for the club.
Central Midfield: Cesc Fabregas
One of Arsenal's most technically gifted players ever, it's a shame that his trophy record doesn't quite live up to that. Signed from the Barcelona youth system in 2003, he became Arsenal's youngest ever goalscorer in the 'Invincible' season in a Carling Cup game against Rotherham, but his breakthrough season came in the next year. Aged just eighteen at the end of the 2004/05 campaign, he played a staggering 46 games in all competitions and was a crucial part of Arsenal's FA Cup win. He would play a further 254 games for Arsenal and was made captain in 2008, but a series of collapses over the years meant that he could never add to his FA Cup winners medal in 2005. At times he was carrying the team nearly single handedly and eventually he moved back to boyhood club Barcelona in 2011 for an initial £35million fee. His most prolific season was the 2009-10 season where he managed an impressive 15 league goals and he will always be remembered fondly by Arsenal fans. Who would bet against a move back to the Emirates in a few years time?
Left-Wing: Robert Pires
The epitome of Wenger football. Creative, clinical and artistic, he played football with the style and grace of the original Ocean's Eleven; a footballing dandy. He scored eighty-four goals in 284 games, many of them breathtaking. Including a truly sensational effort against Aston Villa in 2002. In that season he won the Football Writers' Award even though his season was cut short through cruciate ligament damage. He won two league titles, three FA Cups and with the national side a World Cup, European Championship and two Confederations Cups. He will always have a place in everyone connected with Arsenal's hearts, partly because of his staggering record against Spurs. In 12 games against them he scored eight goals, most notably in an FA Cup Semi-Final victory in 2001 and in the 2-2 draw that saw the 'Invincibles' clinch the title at White Hart Lane. Perhaps Mesut Ozil will be able to achieve his status, considering the similarity between the two.
Support-Striker: Dennis Bergkamp
The two strikers are my easiest choice of the lot. Bergkamp is possibly the most important player in Wenger's dynasty. Although he signed the season before Wenger took charge he found a new gear under the Frenchman and went on to score and assist some incredible goals. More than happy to sit back and let others take the credit, Bergkamp's modesty may have cost him a few more goals, but he and Vieira are the two players in this team who have won every single Arsene Wenger Arsenal trophy. It seems that all of Bergkamp's 87 goals would be nearly every other footballer's greatest, but his two most memorable are probably his third goal against Leicester in 1997 in one of football's greatest ever hat-tricks (in that month he got first, second and third in the Goal of the Month competition) and his nigh on indescribable goal against Newcastle in 2002. He is another Arsenal legend (and 'Invincible') immortalised in bronze outside the Emirates Stadium.
Centre Forward: Thierry Henry
Comfortably Arsenal's greatest ever striker. The club record scorer with 228 goals will be remembered for too many feats to mention. A World Cup winner, Henry won two league titles, three FA Cups and was the key figure in Arsenal's 'Invincibles' season. He scored thirty league goals and grabbed a number of games by the scruff of the neck and turned them on their head nearly single-handedly. most notably against Liverpool where he scored a hat-trick in Arsenal's 4-2 win. In that season he scored four brilliant goals (including a 'Panenka" penalty) in Arsenal's 5-0 win against Leeds and was voted PFA Player of the Year. He won four golden boots including a hattrick between 2004 and 2006 and scored a legendary goal in the Bernabeu in the build up to Arsenal's Champions League Final in 2006. His final season was cut short by injury before he moved to Barcelona, where he won the Champions League, but a short loan return during the MLS close season whilst he was at current club New York Red Bulls allowed him to create two more moments of magic. With the scores locked at 0-0 in an FA Cup third round tie at home to Leeds Henry scored the winner in the final fifteen minutes to lift the roof off the Emirates. In his final league game for the club he scored an injury time winner against Sunderland which started a run of four consecutive comeback wins in the league which ensured Arsenal finished above Spurs once again and secured Champions League football. Simply the best.
And there you have it. I have missed out many huge names including Dixon, Petit and Ljungberg but this was what I came up with after much stressing out. If you disagree feel free to make your own team in the comments section.
Arsene Wenger has made some incredible achievements outside of the trophies he's won: building a new Stadium; transforming the club; playing gorgeous football; performing a nearly impossible task of staying in the Champions League despite the debts of a new Stadium; making the careers of many football legends, but perhaps his biggest achievement is managing a group of players like the ones mentioned above and many more.
It seems right that Wenger should win some more trophies before he leaves, but you don't always get what you deserve in football. Perhaps we'll discuss that another time.
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