Arsene Wenger approaches his 1000th game in charge this weekend, with the Gunners set to face Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
It’s been an incredible tenure for the Frenchman dating back to 1996 however it has been turbulent with his first reign filled with trophies while he’s now attempting to end a nine year barren run.
Wenger is surprised by the landmark, with time flying by during his 18 year tenure.
He told Arsenal Player:
It makes you feel ‘where did the time go?’ It looks to me like I started yesterday, I can’t believe it is such a long time.
The Gunners boss reflected on both the low and highlights of his career in north London, and two of the three moments have something in common – Barcelona.
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The Frenchman’s biggest regret was the infamous night at Stade de France – the 2006 Champions League final defeat against Barcelona.
Arsenal were immediately handicapped after just 18 minutes when Jens Lehmann saw red but they managed to grab the lead through Sol Campbell. However they spent most of the match on the back foot before Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti netted for the Catalans and won the illustrious prize that has regrettably eluded Wenger since.
It remains Wenger’s most difficult moment, he’s never managed to reach another Champions League final and that night eight years ago will forever haunt him:
I would like to replay the Champions League Final with 11 men in 2006. It will be the regret forever.
It has happened to us again with Bayern [this season]. That game I would love to have seen what would have happened if we stayed 11 against 11 against Bayern. These were huge games with so much at stake and you feel you cannot play with all your cards.
Wenger has enjoyed a selection of jubilant moments, winning the title at Spurs and Manchester United springs to mind, but for the long standing Gunners boss it was his first title win that stands out alongside the pulsating 2-1 over Barcelona in 2011.
Arsenal were consequently knocked out in the second leg of the Champions League last-16 tie, but it was a huge night at Emirates for the opening leg – electric to say the least after a late Andrey Arshavin winner.
Wenger revealed his most enjoyable moment:
Maybe the Barcelona game on the Champions League night [in 2011], maybe winning the first title against Everton, which was so important.
I hope that the next game will be my favourite game.
There would be nothing greater than a win on Saturday for Wenger to beat his old foe Mou. It will help maintain their title challenge and give Wenger an enjoyable ‘thank you’ gift.
The club’s last trophy was the 2005 FA Cup which marked an end of a hugely successful era for Arsenal. The Emirates Stadium was a massive financial burden at a time when clubs were seeing an unprecedented injection of cash pumped into their squads.
Wenger has remained at the helm through the testing period that has seen a large amount of players developed into world class talents but sold for profits.
Incredibly the Frenchman has maintained Champions League qualification throughout, but is now confident they can compete with the Premier League powerhouses both on the field and in the transfer market.
Wenger reflected on his two ‘halves’ of his Arsenal career:
When I one day look back I will certainly be very proud of what I have done [in the second half]. This was a trophyless period but a much more difficult and sensitive period, where it needed much more commitment and strength than in the first part of my stay here.
I went for a challenge that I knew would be difficult because we had to fight with clubs who lose £150 million per year and we had to make £30 million. On top of that we had to stand up with people telling us we had to beat them.
Look, if I ask you tomorrow to race with Usain Bolt and win the race, you’ll realise quickly it is difficult.
I accepted to stay here a long time knowing that we had little chance to win the Premier League, but I think now we are in a position again where we can fight with other clubs to sign big players. I think we can be proud of the consistency of our achievement at the club.
All I can say is I hope this is not the end of Wenger’s reign.
In Arsene I Trust