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GCR Books

On the anniversary of Arsène Wenger’s first match

By Tony Attwood

Wenger’s first match in charge of Arsenal was against Blackburn Rovers in their days before they became a subsidiary of a chicken, and it took place on 12 October 1996.  Arsenal won with two goals from Ian Wright, making it four wins in a row during the Rice/Wenger handover period.  Here’s the team

Seaman,
Dixon, Bould, Adams, Winterburn
Keown      Vieira
Platt                       Merson,
Wright     Hartson

Subs: Parlour (Hartson 85), Shaw, Linighan, Rose, Lukic

By the time of this first game, Arsène Wenger had taken on the mass slavering press hounds gathered at the foot of the steps of Highbury and won.   He had said that he thought the Arsenal board were “crazy” for appointing him, and that he had previously been considered for the job in 1995, when they gave the job to Bruce Rioch instead.   Rioch lasted a year.

Tony Adams on hearing the news of the appointment had said something along the lines of “He’s French, what does he know about English football?”  Enough, it seemed both in terms of winning things and helping people out of their own graveyards.

Later Mr Wenger replied to the old anti-foreigner sentiment in English football by saying. “I believe I contributed to the change in attitude about foreign managers. That can look pretentious but I don’t think it is at all. I can show some articles where people tried to prove that the foreign managers can never win an English championship. That has changed and I have certainly contributed to that. But I am also one of the few who also defends English managers.”

He also reflected on whether he could have done what he has done at another club instead of Arsenal.  He said, “I don’t believe I could only have done that at Arsenal. But I believe I was lucky to find at Arsenal the support I found and that is important for success….

“I was quite successful in the clubs where I worked before [Nancy, Monaco, Grampus Eight], but I have always found support where I worked.”

By the start of the 2013/14 season Mr Wenger was the third most successful manager overall in terms of win percentage, beaten only by Pat Race (who had four games at the start of Mr Wenger’s first season), and Joe Shaw who took over from Herbert Chapman in 1934 and had 23 games.

He is the most successful manager in terms of major trophies with seven, and the longest serving not only in years but also number of games (nearly twice as many as Bertie Mee).

His results in terms of win percentage is way above the other managers who delivered over 100 games (Herbert Chapman in 403 games delivered 49.88% wins while Wenger’s in 954 games was 56.92%.

You can read all the stats concerning all our managers in the managers’ file.

Of course not every club has been as fortunate as Arsenal in getting a long term manager since 12 October 1996.  When Mr Wenger arrived, Tottenham (to pluck an example out of the air) had Gerry Francis as manager, and he lasted until November 1997, by which time Chris Hughton was ready to take over, for a week.  Next came along Christian Gross  (November 1997 to September 1998) quickly followed by the plucky David Pleat (September 1998 to October 1998).  George Graham then came in from October 1998 to March 2001 followed by the plucky David Pleat (March 2001 to April 2001) followed by Glen Hoddle, one of the few men in football sacked from the FA for his religious beliefs  (April 2001 to September 2003)

Then came the plucky David Pleat (September 2003 to June 2004) who took Tottenham to  14th, followed by Jacques Santini (June 2004 to November 2004) after whom we had Martin Jol until we got Juande Ramos (October 2007 to October 2008) and then Arry who lasted from 2008 to 2012 before AVB took over.

How fortunate Arsenal have been to have had their most successful manager during this period.  But let’s leave the final comment to Tony Adams, who was Wenger’s captain at Arsenal from 1996 until 2002.   When he (Adams) retired he had the presence of mind to come out and admit his mistake, saying  “At first, I thought: What does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher. He’s not going to be as good as George [Graham]. Does he even speak English properly?”

Oh yes, Tony, he does.  Better than most English born footballers.

There’s an index to some, but by no means all, of our articles on Mr Wenger here.

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