Arsene Wenger is number 30 in 90min’s Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next seven weeks. You can find Toby Cudworth’s career overview here.
With over 30 years of managerial experience under his belt, 22 of those with Arsenal in the Premier League, it will come as no surprise to learn that Arsene Wenger has worked with some of the greatest players ever to grace European football.
The Frenchman is a known believer of Rinus Michels’ ‘total football’ philosophy; a style which he has abided by throughout his managerial career. Having guided Arsenal to an unbeaten ‘Invincible’ season during the 2003/04 Premier League campaign, Wenger’s legacy in north London is cast in stone – and he will forever be remembered as one of, if not the club’s greatest manager.
As previously mentioned, Wenger has worked alongside some of the best in the business – making the task of picking his combined XI tricky to say the least. However, said task has indeed been completed – with some big names forced to look on from the sidelines…
Goalkeepers and Defenders
David Seaman (GK) – In goal for both of Arsenal’s double-winning seasons (1997/98 and 2001/02), there is no disputing who should be in goal for Wenger’s best XI. The Englishman had his injury problems, but was one of the best ‘keepers in the country on his day.
Lauren (RB) – Initially signed as cover on the right-hand side of midfield, Lauren was eventually converted into an attacking full-back – becoming first choice at Highbury during the 2001/02 season. The Cameroonian was an integral part of Wenger’s side for seven years, forming a key component of the famous 2003/04 ‘Invincibles’.
Sol Campbell (CB) – Snapped up on a free transfer from bitter rivals Tottenham, Campbell’s arrival signified a revival in Arsenal’s fortunes after three years in Manchester United’s shadow. Helped the Gunners to the double in his first season, before playing a key role in the ‘Invincibles’ side – assuming leadership at the heart of central defence after Tony Adams’ retirement in 2002.
Tony Adams (CB) – Captain fantastic and leader extraordinaire, Adams was the driving force behind Arsenal’s league and cup double in the 1997/98 season. He was instrumental in galvanising the team to get behind Wenger when appointed, and was rewarded for his service with a second Premier League title before retiring in 2002.
Ashley Cole (LB) – Wenger nurtured a number of young talents at Arsenal, though few were as successful as Ashley Cole – who became a regular in the team aged just 21. He left the club in acrimonious circumstances, but was an essential cog in the 2003/04 ‘Invincible’ wheel.
Freddie Ljungberg (RM) – Plucked from the obscurity of Swedish football, very few had heard of Ljungberg before he rocked up at Highbury in 1998. It didn’t take long though for his red-haired mohawk to start wreaking havoc in the Premier League, with the 2001/02 season proving his most profitable in front of goal – with 17 strikes to his name in all competitions.
Patrick Vieira (CM) – Though Vieira joined Arsenal before Wenger was officially unveiled as manager, it has long been suggested that the Frenchman was influencing the Gunners’ transfer policy before signing on the dotted line in October 1996. Vieira joined for £3.5m in August of that year, becoming one of the most influential midfielders of his generation. A complete midfielder who could do it all, he was the cornerstone of Wenger’s side for almost a decade – becoming captain in 2002.
Cesc Fabregas (CM) – Fabregas was, in all likelihood, the most talented player to ever grace Arsenal’s midfield – with technical brilliance entwined with a superb understanding and reading of the game. Under the guidance of Wenger, he matured from a fresh-faced teenager into one of the world’s best playmakers, embodying every aspect of his manager’s ‘total football’ philosophy. His only career regret will be failing to win a Premier League crown alongside Wenger.
Robert Pires (LM) – After moving to north London in 2000, it looked for a period of time that Pires would become one of the Premier League’s most expensive flops. The Frenchman, however, proved to be one of Wenger’s most sensational pieces of businesses – becoming a leading light at Highbury as Arsenal became one of the most exciting teams around the world to watch. Pires was phenomenal – his vision, touch and poise symbolic of everything Wenger looked for in a wide player.
Dennis Bergkamp (ST) – Astonishingly, Bergkamp opted to join Arsenal in 1995 – a time when the club were managed by Bruce Rioch. He initially struggled to adapt to life in England, but following the appointment of Wenger, he soon reminded the world of just how good he was. On his day, Bergkamp was absolutely unstoppable – effortlessly linking up play with the midfield, demonstrating remarkable composure in front of goal over and over again.
Thierry Henry (ST) – There will quite simply never be anyone like Thierry Henry. Between 2000 and 2005, there was nobody better in England than the flamboyant Frenchman – with his game elevated to a breathtaking level by the excellent man-management skills of Wenger. Transformed from a left winger into a centre forward, Henry used his searing pace to terrorise defences and soon began to find the net with regularity. In the blink of an eye, or so it seemed, he became Arsenal’s record goalscorer – with his status as a club and Premier League legend firmly secured.