LONDON, March 21 – Arsene Wenger will take charge of his 1,000th match as Arsenal manager on Saturday when the Gunners visit Chelsea. Here AFP takes a look at five of the French coach’s best signings since he arrived in north London in 1996, as well as a couple he would rather forget:
Despite being a virtual unknown at the time, Wenger made the combative French midfielder his first target when joining Arsenal and snapped him up for what proved a bargain price of just £3.5 million in 1996. Vieira became the Gunners’ inspirational captain during eight years at the club, winning seven club trophies plus the World Cup and European Championships with France.
Wenger had the foresight to see that the gifted but erratic Henry, who was being played as a winger by Juventus, could develop into an out-and-out striker. The Frenchman soon repaid his £11 million fee, becoming the outstanding striker in Europe and Arsenal’s record goalscorer, claiming a glittering array of silverware in the process.
In terms of a money-making signing, there are few to equal Fabregas. He cost Arsenal just £500,000 in compensation to Barcelona in 2003, and the Catalan club bought him back in 2011 for £35 million after eight years in which he was adored by Gunners fans as the fulcrum of Wenger’s eye-catching, if under-achieving, side.
The French winger arrived from Marseille for a £6 million fee in 2000 and elevated his dashing style to new heights during six memorable years at Arsenal. Was also an amazing value replacement for Marc Overmars who was sold that same summer by Wenger for £25 million. Rated sixth on the all-time list of Arsenal’s greatest ever players.
Enraged Tottenham supporters when he quit White Hart Lane to make the short trip across north London, joining Arsenal on a free transfer and proving an inspired swoop by Wenger. The England centre-back went on to be the defensive rock of a team that won three FA Cups and two Premier League titles, including going the entire 2003-04 league season undefeated.
And here’s two that didn’t quite pan out the way Wenger would have wanted:
Hailed by Wenger as his “fox in the box” after joining from Everton for £10 million in 2001. Sadly his time in north London showed even an astute judge of talent like Wenger could get it horribly wrong as the diminutive striker scored only eight goals in 39 appearances before returning to Everton on loan in August 2003 and then joining Charlton permanently the following year.
Arshavin arrived for a then Arsenal record fee of £15 million in 2009 after earning plaudits across the world for his dazzling performances on the wing for Zenit St Petersburg and Russia. But he faded quickly, earning criticism for his lackadaisical attitude on and off the field before being sent packing back to Zenit last year.
FIVE CLASSIC GAMES UNDER ARSENE
BLACKBURN ROVERS 0 ARSENAL 2 (Premier League, October 1996)
– Wenger’s first game saw Arsenal emerge from Ewood Park with a 2-0 victory over Blackburn, who had been crowned league champions the previous year. England striker Ian Wright scored both of the visitors’ goals, breaking the deadlock from a John Hartson knock-down in the third minute and dinking a shot past Blackburn goalkeeper Tim Flowers in the 51st minute after Tim Sherwood — the current Tottenham Hotspur manager — had twice hit the woodwork for the hosts.
ARSENAL 4 EVERTON 0 (Premier League, May 1998)
– Wenger’s first full season ended with Arsenal claiming a double of Premier League and FA Cup trophies, and they secured the league title with a breezy win over Everton at a sun-splashed Highbury. Captain Tony Adams capped victory with a fine fourth goal, bursting from the halfway line to gather a pass from centre-back partner Steve Bould before blasting a left-foot half-volley past goalkeeper Thomas Myhre. As Adams turned to acknowledge the home fans’ acclaim, Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler succinctly exclaimed: “That sums it all up!”
ARSENAL 2 CHELSEA 0 (FA Cup final, May 2002)
– A year after a dramatic 2-1 loss to Liverpool in the 2001 FA Cup final, Arsenal returned to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium and claimed victory thanks to two superb long-range goals by Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg. Four days later they beat Manchester United 2-0 at Old Trafford to complete Wenger’s second double in four years. Arsenal qualified for a third successive FA Cup final in 2003, beating Southampton 1-0 through a goal by Robert Pires.
INTER MILAN 1 ARSENAL 5 (Champions League group phase, November 2003)
– European success has eluded Wenger — with defeat by Galatasaray on penalties in the 2000 UEFA Cup final followed six years later by a 2-1 loss to Barcelona in the Champions League final — but Arsenal’s handsome win at San Siro was one of the finest overseas performances by an English club. Thierry Henry claimed a brace of goals, the second a twisting solo effort, with Freddie Ljungberg, Edu and Robert Pires also on target.
ARSENAL 2 LEICESTER CITY 1 (Premier League, May 2004)
– Arsenal thrilled neutral observers with their swashbuckling football during the 2003-04 season and having already won the league, they welcomed Leicester to Highbury needed to avoid defeat to complete an unbeaten campaign. Paul Dickov threatened to spoil the party by giving the visitors the lead with a 25th-minute header, but Thierry Henry equalised from the penalty spot before Patrick Vieira gathered a pass from Dennis Bergkamp and rounded goalkeeper Ian Walker to score the winner. Former Liverpool defender turned media pundit Alan Hansen described Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ as “quite simply the most fluid, devastating team the British Isles has seen”.