Our History continued: 1996-2006- Arsène Who and theOur History continued: 1996-2006- Arsène Who and theOur History continued: 1996-2006- Arsène Who and the
Within 18 months of losing Bruce Rioch, Arsenal appointed
both Pat Rice and Stewart Houston on temporary contracts.
But the club wanted and needed someone at the helm who
they hoped would become somewhat of a permanent figure
when given the reins…
And so, after notable success at Monaco and a small stint at
Japanese club Grampus Eight, in came Monsieur Arsène
Wenger in October 1996, who no doubt was going to try his
hand at guiding the team through a new age of football.
There is no doubt that he raised many eyebrows upon his
appointment. He was an unknown figure, and many branded
him as Arsène Who, especially as he would be the club’s first
boss from outside the United Kingdom.
But David Dein, Vice Chairman at the time, showed immense
faith in the Frenchman and continued with his appointment.
And the new manager didn’t disappoint.
Arsène Wenger ’s first match was a 2–0 away victory over
Blackburn Rovers on 12 th October 1996 and in his first full
season at the club we would go on to end the campaign
winning the League Championship for the first time in seven
After his appointment it surely didn’t take his players long to
realise the sort of manager he was with the fact that he
wouldn’t be a walkover.
Wenger was definitely a different breed of manager.
It seemed that the old habits of throwing tantrums were not
for him. Instead, the squad grew accustomed to nutrition and
new training methods and off the pitch Wenger had been just
as effective, taking an active role in the building of a new
training ground, changing the way players viewed food and
drink and in years to come with the Emirates Stadium project.
During his first few seasons though, Wenger was obviously
going to be on the lookout for reinforcements and additions
to his team and during the transfer window he set about to
purchase several players including midfielders Marc
Overmars and Emmanuel Petit and goalkeeper Alex
As well as incomings, outgoings were also on the cards and
so English midfielder Paul Merson ’s time at the club came to
an end and he departed to join Middlesbrough a year after
Wenger came in.
In preparation for the 1997-1998 season, Wenger took the
Arsenal squad to Austria, which would become the club’s
usual pre-season base. And it was then that the players were
given a night out under the manager, as a reward for vigorous
training. And at the time, midfielder Ray Parlour revealed it
was spent at a local pub with the other English players, while
the French ones headed to the coffee shop and smoked. He
then recollected and said “How are we going to win the league
this year? We’re all drunk and they’re all smoking.”
Returning from Austria, Wenger continued to fine-tune his
squad during this period.
Upon blocking John Hartson’s move to West Ham United in
February 1997, he convinced French teenager Nicolas Anelka
to join Arsenal and also raided his old club Monaco to obtain
the likes of Christopher Wreh, Gilles Grimandi and Emmanuel
Petit. The latter two were defenders, but Wenger thought both
were capable of playing in midfield and this became an
occurrence of Wenger’s, where he would play players out of
position if he saw something he knew would work! And to his
credit, more often than not, it did work!
And so, Arsenal began the 1997–98 season positively, but
struggled come November. Although they beat Manchester
United at Highbury without the suspended Dennis Bergkamp,
this would end up being the only league win throughout the
whole month. Defeat at home to Blackburn Rovers left the
club in sixth position before Christmas and so we were
seemingly deemed to be out of the running for winning the
Championship in that year.
To make matters worse, striker Ian Wright was booed off by
supporters over his performance, which he responded to the
criticism of the crowd from the dressing room window. The
boss obviously thought something needed to change and so
he called for an urgent team meeting where it was reported
“home truths were spoken, fingers pointed (and) players were
No doubt it could be argued that there were too many egos
and characters in one team that possibly had an effect on the
poor run of games and mentality around the squad at the
So sitting 12 points behind reigning Champions Manchester
United , at the end of February, a winning streak of ten
matches ensured Arsenal went on to win the Championship
title with a 4–0 win over Everton on 3 rd May 1998.
So, I guess it would be safe to say that you can never rule any
team out of anything regardless of where they may sit during
the season! And it goes to show that maybe all of the drinking
and smoking pre-season, as well as the team meeting, did
well to propel Arsenal to the win, although it did take a bit of
time to get to that point!
And no, I would not advice the smoking and drinking now lol…
So of course with trophies comes acknowledgement and in
recognition of the team’s and Wengers achievements, Wenger
became the first non-British manager to receive the Carling
Manager of the Year award and striker Dennis Bergkamp –
whom joined us from Inter Milan in June 1995 for a transfer
fee estimated around £7.5million after becoming then
manager Bruce Rioch’s first signing at Arsenal -was given the
accolade of PFA Players’ Player of the Year by his fellow
peers and FWA Footballer of the Year by football writers.
Despite some issues with being booed by a select number of
fans, another player who continued to flourish under Wenger
was Ian Wright and already closing in on the record set by
Cliff Bastin as the all-time top goalscorer, not long after the
Frenchman arrived, Wright reached the target, finally scoring
his magical 179 th goal against Bolton Wanderers on 13 th
Although this tally would be eclipsed in a little over eight years
from that day by who could be deemed as perhaps Wenger’s
finest signing to date – Thierry Henry- it was and still is a
great achievement for Arsenal and for Wrighty himself.
And so, we come to Thierry Henry who was signed in August
1999, transferring from Juventus after being rather unsettled in
Italy and at the time his fee was £1.1m, something which is
peanuts in the modern day.
He was another example of Wenger taking a player and
switching his position as he was immediately moulded into a
striker by Wenger, a move that would end up paying rich
dividends in years to come.
However, doubts were raised about Henry’s ability to adapt to
the quick and physical English game when he failed to score
in his first eight games and after several difficult months in
England, Henry even conceded that he had to “be re-taught
everything about the art of striking.”
As Wenger’s side had been denied back-to-back titles by one
point by Manchester United in the previous May it was clear
that the recruiting of Henry was to shore up the goalscoring
front yet struggles remained on that front even with Henry in
As mentioned before, the Frenchman’s ability to adapt to the
rough-and-tumble of the Premier League was questioned and
after failing to score in his first eight games the doubts were
soon dismissed as the former Juventus star managed to bag
himself an impressive 26 goals that season.
Despite the goalscoring feat, during his time and not long after
his arrival, we didn’t have much luck when it came to trophies.
Final defeats in the 2000 UEFA Cup to Turkish side
Galatasaray, which was 0-0 after normal time which
Galatasaray then went on to win 4-1 on penalties and the 2001
FA Cup final to Liverpool that we lost 2-1, saw us without a
trophy yet again! And this also meant that Henry was still
without any Highbury silverware after his arrival.
But this trophy drought was not going to last!
In the 2001-2002 season Arsène Wenger’s side including
Henry would surge to a spectacular Double, finishing seven
points clear of Liverpool in the Premier League. They sealed
the title with a win over rivals Manchester United at Old
Trafford, just days after dispatching Chelsea 2-0 in the FA Cup
A year later in 2003 and a second successive FA Cup triumph
But what could never have been pre-empted or written was
what came next, and this would perhaps go down as Wenger’s
greatest achievement… The never equalled Invincibles!
He led his team through an unbeaten season to lift the
A league record of 49 games unbeaten without defeat –
Played 49, Won 36, Drawn 13, Lost None.
Although we eclipsed Nottingham Forest’s 42 game run of
League games without defeat, going 49 games unbeaten was
just another feat in itself and is something in which to this day
still has not been achieved!
Even though we have been rivalled by Liverpool in more
recent seasons, nobody is yet to break our record and long
may this continue!
This achievement by Wenger and his side surely propelled
Arsenal into being one of the greatest clubs in the world, at
least in the history books and despite the lack of trophies in
years to follow, this record in itself is something that may
never be eclipsed as this Arsenal side was truly “Invincible”
and for those fans like myself who was old enough to
remember it, it is something I will forever be proud of and so
should every other Gooner!
(Although even if I wasn’t around, I would still be proud of my
teams’ historical achievements, as I am of those previous
ones from times gone by!)
After their heroics in the invincibles season, Arsenal were
quickly becoming one of the most respected and admired
sides in Europe and our ambitions were underlined when in
February 2004, construction began on what would be our new
state-of-the-art home at Ashburton Grove, only a stone’s
throw from current stadium at the time, Highbury.
After that unbeaten season the trophies kept coming and yet
another FA Cup win followed in 2005 as we ran out 5-4
winners on penalties after normal time ended 0-0, against
Manchester United in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
And so, the Frenchman continued to rack up the trophies and
It seemed as though we were destined for more a year later
as Wenger took Arsenal to the Champions League final in
Paris in 2006.
But this is where the tide would change!
We faced off against a Barcelona side in the final. But it
wasn’t meant to be our trophy!
Having 11 men on the pitch is hard enough against any team,
but after a red card for then goalkeeper Jens Lehmann – who
became the first player to be sent off in a European final after
he was deemed to have brought down Samuel Eto’o outside
the box – meant a tough task became even tougher.
And with any sending off, one player needs to be sacrificed
and it was Robert Pires who was the man to be subbed off to
make way for back up keeper Manuel Almunia.
Although it looked like luck was going to be on our side as
with 10 men, we managed to take the lead through a header
from Sol Campbell after a Thierry Henry free kick and we
would go in 1-0 up at half time.
However, that wasn’t to last as Eto’o equalised in the second
half and then four minutes later Juliano Belletti shot through
Almunia’s legs to make it 2-1 and that is how it remained.
This would be the trophy that got away, so near and yet so far,
that is one night in Arsenal’s history that even to this day still
hurts! Well to me it does…!
Although Wenger conquered England, unfortunately he
couldn’t quite achieve the same feat in Europe!
And so as always when you fall down and take knockbacks
the team had no choice but to move on and look forward.
But Wenger had and has always been about more than results
and trophies, He has transformed relative unknown players
into world-class stars, such as the likes of Vieira, Petit,
Anelka, Freddie Ljungberg and Francesc Fabregas to name a
And he no doubt will always be remembered for turning
Thierry Henry from a talented winger into a superstar striker as
well as being part of a new era, home wise, where it felt
positive times were coming after the new stadium was built
and finished, -the Emirates Stadium- officially opened its
doors in the summer of 2006 – a bold step into the future for
a Club with a glittering past.