Which games would Arsene Wenger tell God about to show he hasn’t been wasting his time? Does he still think about the 2006 Champions League final?
It’s incredibly comforting to have Arsene Wenger back in our lives.
Sure, those last few years at Arsenal were a bit iffy but for those of us of a certain age, we grew up with Wenger. So having his comforting, reassuring voice on The Totally Football Show was like being wrapped in a massive warm blanket.
We covered so much ground with the great man, but one question we had to ask was what he would say when the last great scorer came to take his name.
“There’s that lovely quote of yours about meeting God,” asked James Richardson. “If God was to ask what you’d done with your life, you’d say “I tried to win matches.” If you had to show God one game from your extraordinary career to show God you hadn’t been wasting your time, which game would you choose?”
Arsene said: “I think my first Premiership win, the last game of the season against Everton in 1998. That gave me huge confidence and credit as well. The first FA Cup win at Wembley against Newcastle – the first Double, basically.
“Then maybe some games that nobody remembers: when we beat the great AC Milan, who were European champions. We went to Milan and won 2-0, and the fans stood up and applauded the team for the quality of our game.”
But as you might expect from Wenger, individual games are not what he focuses on the most.
“Overall what I’m the most proud of is what’s most difficult to achieve, which is the consistency of the presence at the top, with no real drop. Despite all the financial restrictions, we see now it’s not easy to be 19 times consecutively in the top four. We were always present there: we were five times second, five times third, six times fourth – we were always in there.
“The regret is we couldn’t win the Champions League in 2006 because that would have crowned the golden period.
“When I think about it, it’s still the most painful. We didn’t concede a goal in the knockout stage, we beat Real Madrid with Ronaldo, Zidane, Raul and Figo; we played Juventus with Ibrahimovic and Trezeguet and didn’t concede a goal, then we went to the final and were 1-0 up with 13 minutes to go. But, we played with ten men.”
In that game he took Robert Pires off when Jens Lehmann was given a red card, and Julien Laurens wanted to know whether he thought about that decision still:
“You make what you think is the right decision. Still today I am not convinced it was the right decision because we lost the game. At the time, 2006, Robert had a big cruciate ligament injury in 2002, he was 33-years-old, he was not an especially good defender and I knew when you play against Barcelona you have to run after the ball at some stage. I felt it was the best way to deal with the problem we’d face.
“When you’re a manager, you have to think that when you lose, you’re wrong.”
Furthermore, that Champions League run signalled a shift in approach from Wenger, playing Thierry Henry up front on his own for the first time, and Michael Cox was curious whether this was a deliberate shift designed to deal with playing in Europe.
“I always played 4-4-2 before but I felt we needed three central midfielders, to resist away from home in Europe. Cesc Fabregas in a 4-4-2 in front of the defence – he was still a young boy, he had not the stature he had later, and we would physically suffer too much defensively, so I added an extra central midfielder to help him defend.”
Michael also wondered if, while everyone talks about the Invincibles season, in 2001/2 Arsenal scored in every game, which is also unique – does Wenger think that season gets overlooked?
“Yes, there are many aspects that are overlooked. History doesn’t always retain what you’d like to. You do your life and a little part of it is remembered, but it’s not always what you would like the most.”
Arsene Wenger’s book ‘My Life In Red And White’ is out now and available to order here.
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