Before Arsene Wenger joined the Gunners in 1996, Arsenal was given the nickname ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ due to their uninspiring style of play throughout the previous seasons, in particular the 1993 season under George Graham. In this post, we will assess not only how the Arsenal legend reinvented the club but also how the iconic Arsene Wenger transformed football.
During George Graham’s nine-year spell at Arsenal from 1986-1995, Graham was able to obtain a wealth of trophies, including two first-division titles, an FA Cup trophy, two football league cups, and a European Cup in 1993-94. Despite these achievements, Graham’s style of play was often criticised for being lacklustre and uninspiring - resulting in the nickname ‘boring, boring Arsenal’.
This can be largely attributed to a reinvigorated Manchester United side that was only growing stronger, coupled with a Liverpool side that was enjoying the next generation of footballing talents.
The reason for George Graham’s departure from Arsenal was due to a Premier League inquiry where they discovered that he had accepted an illegal £425,000 from Rune Hauge (a Norwegian agent) after the acquisition of two players, John Jensen and Pal Lydersen.
As a result, for the remainder of the season, the club appointed Bruce Rioch as club manager. However, it wasn’t until the end of the season, following a string of lacklustre performances, that the club decided to appoint Arsene Wenger.
In September 1996, Arsenal unveiled Arsene Wenger as the new Premier League club manager. This announcement was originally met with speculation from players, supporters, and the press alike. Alas, this feeling of uncertainty quickly evaporated as he was able to quickly instil a feeling of competitiveness within the club as the players started competing for their place. Coupled with this was a more ‘hands-on’ approach to training sessions, ensuring that a specific style of play was being met.
This quickly turned the fans, players, and even the press in favour of Wenger, as his elegant nature in front of the press and his entertaining style of play were catching the attention of football fans across the world. Granted, the club would not enjoy lifting silverware with Arsene that year, although the season that followed would be the birth of an era of dominance with the Frenchman.
Arsenal lifted their first Premier League trophy during the 1997-98 Premier League campaign, finishing a single point behind new rivals Manchester United. This is especially impressive given that between third place (Liverpool) and Manchester United, there was a 12-point gap.
This season was especially impressive from an attacking front for the Gunners, as they had the services of club legend, Dennis Bergkamp, who provided the side with 12 assists and 16 goals - contributing to a total of 28 goals.
Not to mention Arsenal’s impressive defensive prowess, which helped Arsenal obtain a 35-goal difference. At the end of the season, Arsene Wenger was awarded the Premier League Manager of the Season. Dennis Bergkamp is competing with Michael Owen for an array of player-related awards. Ultimately, Bergkamp was awarded the FWA Player of the Year as well as the PFA Players’ Player of the Year awards, with Owen picking up the Premier League Player of the Season and PFA Young Player of the Year awards.
Granted, this was only the start of the Frenchman’s reign of terror across domestic competitions as he aimed to bolster his already impressive squad.
The subsequent seasons that followed Wenger’s second season went trophyless. However, it wasn’t until the 2001-02 season that Arsene Wenger's style of play truly began to take shape. Coupled with world-class talents such as Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, and Patrick Viera - the Gunners were able to play a style of football that truly revolutionised the beautiful game.
Compared to the already impressive stats of the ‘97 season, the 2001-02 campaign was even more impressive. Arsenal finished the season with a 7-point difference (87 compared to Liverpool’s 80 points) and an overwhelming goal difference of +43.
In addition to winning the league, Arsenal lifted the FA Cup by besting Newcastle United 3-0 in the FA Cup final replay thanks to goals provided by the frightening Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, and Sol Campbell.
The 2002-03 ultimately ended with Manchester United winning the league by 5 points. Although it didn’t go without complete heartbreak as The Gunners beat Southampton 1-0 thanks to a first-half goal by Robert Pires. With this in mind, the season that followed is known as being one of if not the best season of all time within the Premier League - The Arsenal Invincibles.
The 2003-04 Premier League season will be solidified as the greatest season to take place in English football with the Arsenal side finishing all 38 games without losing a single game. As a result of this, the Premier League presented the football club with a golden Premier League trophy. To learn more about this achievement, we have gone into extensive detail about the monumental season.
In addition to providing a more ‘hands-on’ approach to training, one of the main differences from the style of football compared to other teams was the ‘pairings’ approach. Utilising this pairings style of play, essentially meant that whenever a player looked to play into empty space, a player would either cover the empty space or aim to provide support behind them.
This made for an electrifying attacking mindset with defensive cover defensively. The legacy of Arsene Wenger will forever be etched into the idles of football, and he is a man who is truly deserving of entering the Hall of Fame of football.
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