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Arsene Wenger: Five highs and lows

London (AFP) – Arsene Wenger is bringing down the curtain on more than two decades in charge at Arsenal, announcing on Friday he will be stepping down at the end of the season.

AFP Sport looks at five highs and lows of the Frenchman’s reign:

The Invincibles

In what was probably the high point of his long reign, Wenger guided the Gunners through the 2003-04 league season undefeated. Combining the nous of veterans Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira with the goalscoring ability of Thierry Henry, they were an irresistible force. “That’s a hell of an achievement in English football, what with all the tough games,” Henry told FourFourTwo magazine in 2017. “And nobody will ever be able to take that away from us.” It was to be the last time Arsenal won the title under Wenger. 

Double double

Wenger became the first foreign manager to win the Premier League-FA Cup double in 1998, repeating the feat four years later with Vieira and Bergkamp key players in both sides. The 1998 league title came against the odds as Manchester United were so far ahead at one point one bookmaker paid out to punters. However, the Gunners overhauled Alex Ferguson’s men and then beat Newcastle in the FA Cup final. The 2002 league title was an easier ride and they beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final. The 1998 team is seen by some pundits as the finest team of the Wenger era. “They (the 1998 side) were experienced and strong, both mentally and physically,” ex-Manchester United and England player Gary Neville told TalkSport. “They were tough. They didn’t have the touch of arrogance that would come in the Henry years when their attitude was ‘you can’t touch us, we’re French and we’re brilliant’.”      

FA Cups

Arsenal were unable to deliver regular title challenges in the final years of Wenger’s reign but he kept a lid on simmering discontent with three FA Cups in four years, becoming the most successful manager in the competition’s history with seven wins. However, those victories failed to make up for a credible title challenge and some felt the Frenchman should have walked away after beating Chelsea in last year’s final at Wembley.

Champions League failure

The Holy Grail that eluded Wenger. He came closest in a 2-1 loss to Barcelona in the 2006 final when his side played with 10 men for more than half the match due to goalkeeper Jens Lehmann’s sending-off. However, the decline in the club’s fortunes during Wenger’s final years was reflected in an embarrassing dismantling by Bayern Munich last season — beaten 10-2 on aggregate. Wenger tried to play down the lack of the Champions League success earlier this year when he said: “I can deal with what I have achieved and what I have not achieved.”   

Tottenham’s rise

Perhaps the final straw for disgruntled Arsenal supporters was the sight of north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur finishing above them in last season’s Premier League — the first time since the 1994-95 campaign. Mauricio Pochettino’s vibrant young side is set to repeat the feat this year and are poised to move into a new stadium next season. “We are not happy with it but we don’t compare ourselves to Spurs, we compare ourselves to where we want to be,” said Wenger after finishing below them last season.

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