Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, announced yesterday that he would be stepping down from the job at the end of this season, bringing to an end an eventful era that spanned 22 years.
Having joined the club from a spell in faraway Japan, Wenger, complete with Harry Potter-ish rim glasses, arrived with a vision that soon became the Arsenal way and over time came to be known as Wenger ball.
In his time at North London, he won three Premier League titles, lifted the FA Cup seven times, and brought to England a brand of attacking football which became less frequently seen in his last few years but, when it came together for the players, was an absolute privilege to witness.
Wenger ball resulted in great moments for Arsenal, and these are the best of the lot:
2004 UNBEATEN LEAGUE SEASON
Arsenal achieved a feat not attained in English league football for more than a century in 2004 when his team finished the season as champions and without a single defeat suffered in 38 games.
26 wins and 12 draws were enough for Wenger’s Gunners to be the first and still be the only club in the Premier League era to win the title unbeaten.
Two facts made the league win even sweeter. The first being that the title was won at the ground of bitter neighbours, Tottenham Hotspur. And the second being that the title win came after the disappointment of losing over a matter of days to Manchester United and Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final and Champions League quarter-final respectively.
Arsenal would recover days after the Champions League to defeat Liverpool in the league and continue their unbeaten run in the league until the very end.
Coupled with the last two games of the previous season, Arsenal would remain unbeaten until the bitter 2-0 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford brought the run to an end at 49 games.
A handful of teams have tried but none has been able to surpass the mark, further emphasising the magnitude of Wenger’s achievement during that run.
WINNING THE LEAGUE TITLE AT OLD TRAFFORD
Having got one over Sir Alex Ferguson by winning the 1998 league title, Arsene Wenger endured three seasons of Ferguson and his Manchester United team’s dominance in the league.
The Red Devils regained the league in 1999 as part of a historic treble and went on to retain the league title in 2000 and 2001. There was no stopping Fergie and his boys at the time. And United were strong contenders for a fourth successive crown in the closing weeks of 2002, but Wenger’s men, having last suffered a league defeat at the hands of Newcastle over the Christmas period of 2001, closed the season with a 13-match winning streak.
That streak included the penultimate game of the season, a visit to face United at Old Trafford, which Arsenal won to claim a second Premier League title thanks to Sylvain Wiltord’s second-half goal.
ENDING THAT TROPHY DROUGHT IN 2014
Following the 2005 FA Cup win over Manchester United courtesy of Patrick Vieira’s winning penalty, Arsenal failed to win a major trophy in the decade after that triumph.
This drought saw the club suffer defeat in the 2006 UEFA Champions League, the 2009 League Cup, as well as a handful of title challenges which fell through.
So it was with great relief that Wenger lifted the 2014 FA Cup and put to rest doubts over his ability to win titles for the club. He would go on to defend the FA Cup in 2015 and win it again in 2017.
THE RUN TO THE 2006 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
Arsenal had a mix of youth and experience yet still managed to overcome difficult oppositions on their way to the UEFA Champions League final in 2006.
That run is highlighted by the club famously not conceding a goal in the knock-out stages of the competition until the final match when 10-man Arsenal fell 2-1 to Barcelona.
In total, Arsenal succeeded in keeping clean sheets in 10 successive Champions League matches – a record that still stands today with the closest it has come to being surpassed being AC Milan going seven straight games without conceding in the 2004/05 season.
Arsenal’s Jens Lehmann also holds the record for most minutes without conceding as the German goalkeeper did not allow a ball get past him for 995 minutes during that run for Arsenal in the 2005/06 Champions League.
The run is also memorable for Arsenal as it saw the Gunners beat Real Madrid (remember Thierry Henry’s solo goal at the Bernabeu), Juventus and Villarreal to reach the final.
WENGER’S FIRST LEAGUE TITLE
After finishing third, just behind Newcastle United on goal difference (missing out on Champions League qualification as a result) and seven points behind Manchester United, Arsene Wenger knew exactly the man and team to beat by the end of his first season as Arsenal manager.
However, Wenger was almost set to see Alex Ferguson and Man. United win the league again only to go on an unbeaten run from Boxing Day in 1997 which culminated in the Gunners closing up a 13-point deficit on the Red Devils to win the league by a single point.
That unbeaten run saw Arsenal win 15 matches and draw the three other games they played from Boxing Day of 1997, with the title being won in a 4-0 demolition of Everton.