Our History continued: 1996-2006- Arsène Who and the

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

geed up.”

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

September 1997.

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

the side!

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

2003-2004 title.

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.

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