As the Arsenal Manager turns 65 today, now is as good an excuse as any to post the 10 times that luck has played the biggest part in the Frenchman’s Arsenal career.
1) FA Cup Semi-Final Replay 1999 – Bergkamp’s Penalty Miss
1999 will forever be “United’s year”. Their treble immortalised, the luck forgotten. The narrative, however, could have been so very different. Arsene Wenger had won the double in his the previous season, and had the opportunity to repeat the feat for a second consecutive year. The title proved to be in Arsenal’s hands, and a 1-0 loss away at Leeds ensured Wenger retained neither trophy, and would have to wait another agonising three seasons before his next double.
14th April - the FA cup semi-final replay. A deflected shot from Bergkamp finds the back of the net, cancelling out David Beckham’s spectacular first half effort. The momentum of the game certainly looks to be moving back towards the holders. Within 3 minutes, Arsenal score again. The players and crowd merge into one ecstatic entity as 20 year old wonderkid, Nicolas Anelka, rounds Schmeichel and puts the Gunners in the lead for the first time. The linesman, however, was having none of it. Offside. No Goal.
20 minutes later and Arsenal have another chance, as Ray Parlour collects the ball just outside the opposition area, a mazing run from “Romford Pele” results in a clumsy tackle from Phil Neville, leaving the referee no option but to give Arsenal an injury time penalty. Up steps Denis Bergkamp, to send Arsenal into their second successive FA cup final. Up steps the Iceman. The Dutchman against Dane in a battle between a Frenchman and a Scot. The Iceman misses. The game goes on.
United went on to win the game after a sublime run from Ryan Giggs gave a 10 man United the lead in the 109th minute. The mazing run that was immortalised as the match-winning moment was not Parlour’s, and the name of the wonderkid grabbing the headlines was not Anelka’s. It was Giggs’. Ryan fucking Giggs.
2) Premier League 2003- Van Nistelrooy’s Penalty Miss
The Invincibles status could have ended before it begun. 23rd of September 2003, almost exactly one year on from when Wenger uttered the immortal words “I am still hopeful we can go through the season unbeaten - a frightening thought”., before being ridiculed by mainstream press. The previous game had been a damp 1-1 draw against Portsmouth, where a dubious decision from the referee after challenge on Pires resulted in an Arsenal penalty.
The Gunners then went to Old Trafford, where the team could have been beaten after 5 games of the season. A fiery match saw 8 yellow cards given out, with Vieira receiving two of them. The game stood in deadlock after 90 minutes, when Gary Neville lofted a ball into the area, aiming for Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Dutch striker took an inexplicable tumble, and even more inexplicably, a penalty was awarded. The Arsenal defenders were, let’s just say, unhappy about this. After futile arguments with the referee, Van Nistelrooy stood up to take the penalty. Yet again, a Dutchman had a penalty to decide the fate of the match between Wenger and Ferguson. Yet again, the Dutchman missed. The iconic reaction from Martin Keown symbolises the passion that the invincibles had, and arguably that Arsenal have never shown since.
3) United Signing Ronaldo - 2003
You can point to hundreds of “could have been” signings, which every manager is bound to accumulate over that many years in the job. Depending on which sources you believe, Arsenal had opportunities to sign Drogba, Messi, Ibrahimovic, Maradonna, and pretty much any other player who has become one of the world’s best.
However, the player who Wenger has admitted he wished he could have signed above all others is Cristiano Ronaldo. He had trained with Arsenal, had a provisional fee agreed, and was even given an Arsenal shirt with his name printed on the back. His agents ended up agreeing a deal with elsewhere instead. Not only did he go on to win the FIFA World Player of the Year, but he did so for Manchester United.
While signings are rarely down to luck, this one, perhaps, is. The player who would go on to be crowned the best player in the world at various times in his career nearly signed for Arsenal.
4) FA Cup Final 2005- Ferdinand’s Offside Goal
Probably the most one sided 0-0 in FA cup final history. Arsenal were completely dominated by United. It took 27 minutes for the ball to go in the back of the net. Fortunately for Arsenal, Ferdinand’s effort was ruled offside and the game continued at 0-0. United squandered chance after chance as the minutes ticked over. 90 minutes with no goals ensured the game went into extra time. In the dying seconds of the game, Reyes managed to get himself sent off for a second bookable offence on Ronaldo.
It was not a game in which Arsenal were anything even resembling an impressive side, but defended solidly enough, and reliant enough haphazard shooting from United to take the game to penalties. Patrick Vieira’s last kick of a football in Arsenal colours saw Arsenal crowned champions.
The “luck” could have been when Scholes missed his penalty, but I have chosen the disallowed goal. Not only because a third penalty miss in a game against united would start to become repetitive, but because if United had scored in the first half an hour of the game, there would have been no way back for Arsenal.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that the first half of this list is almost exclusively Wenger Vs Ferguson, but at this point it was the two elite managers in England competing for everything, a stark contrast to the latter half of his career.
5) Champions League Final 2006- Henry’s Miss
The biggest “almost” match in Wenger’s tenure of the club. To be within 15 minutes of the greatest prize in football, after holding onto a valiant lead for over an hour with 10 men against the one of best clubs in the world, only for it to be snatched away by two goals in quick succession is nothing short of heart-breaking. The run to the final was majestic. Arsenal were the first English team to win at the Bernabeu, and home wins against Villareal and Juventus proved to be enough to take the team to Paris.
This is a game that is hard to pinpoint on specific moment of luck. Had Lehman not been sent off in the 13th minute of the game, Arsenal would have had a better chance of winning, but would have been still had to face Barcelona for another 77 minutes. Sol Campbell’s first half goal meant that, up until the 69th minute, Arsenal maintained their 1-0 lead.
Then, in the 70th minute, the ball fell to the player of the season, the club’s record goal scorer, Mr Arsenal, Thierry Henry. The man who had been linked to Barcelona for much of the previous season had the opportunity to double the Gunners’ lead. An opportunity that he did not take. Nobody with a modicum of sense could blame Henry for his performance in that competition, especially after his stunning solo effort in the Bernabeu is the only reason Arsenal were that far in the competition, but one more moment of brilliance could have secured Arsenal’s (and Wenger’s) place in the history books.
6) Lasagne-Gate 2006
Champions League football for the 2006/07 season was not in Arsenal’s hands. They went into the last day of the season in 5th place. Tottenham went into that game knowing that 3 points would leave them unreachable in 4th place, and the security of the Champions League spot that came with it. Unfortunately for them, and hilariously for Arsenal fans, they did not win.
Arsenal had finished above Spurs for the previous 11 consecutive seasons, and Spurs finally had the opportunity to overturn this. There was nothing Wenger could do on the last day of the season, except for getting three points and hoping Tottenham managed to, well, Spurs it up spectacularly. Thankfully for all Gooners, they duly managed to deliver in the most unique way they could. Not quite literally shooting themselves in the foot, but by poisoning themselves with lasagne instead.
1am on the last day of the Premier League season and Spurs players Davids, Tainio, Keane, Dawson, Carrick, Lennon, Cerny, Davenport, Barnard and Lee were all being violently ill in the team hotel. There is nothing that Spurs could do to get around it. Their diarrhoea ridden players could not manage to grind out a result, and lost 2-1 to West Ham. Arsenal did their part and beat Wigan 4-2 in the last game at Highbury, ensuring that Wenger qualified for the Champions League once more.
7) Eduardo’s leg break- 2008
One of the most tragic events in Wenger’s reign as manager. Arsenal’s move to the Emirates Stadium had happened the season before. The new stadium meant that certain cutbacks had to be made. The stars that personified the invincibles had moved on, while the replacements couldn’t be of the same calibre without leaving the club financially crippled. Wenger had a vision of propelling Arsenal into Europe’s elite, and had to compromise in the short term by building a team rather than buying one.
It was working. Arsenal were top of the league, and doing it Wenger’s way. Gone were the likes of Cole, Vieira, Bergkamp and Henry, replaced with relative unknowns, Clichy, Flamini, Fabregas and Van Persie. The team of kids were doing almost as well in the league as the superstars had done. They had lost only once in the league, and were sitting relatively comfortably at the top of the table. Then Birmingham happened.
Under the clear instructions to tackle Arsenal out of the game, Martin Taylor proceeded to execute those orders. The subsequent tackle left not only Eduardo’s leg, but the entire Arsenal squad, broken. The angst on the players’ faces was clear for all to see.
After that tackle, the club went on to draw 4 games in a row before losing to Chelsea. It destroyed all momentum that the club had gained. It completely ruined Wenger’s best chance of winning the league since the invincibles. A chance that has still not been taken to this day.
8) Carling Cup Final 2011- Wojciech’s Miscommunication
5 years had passed since the club’s last trophy and Arsenal looked dead certs to put that trophy doubt to an end, facing relegation threatened Birmingham City. The run to the final had largely been undertaken by youth players, but the final was taken seriously by Wenger. Fielding as full a strength team as possible considering both Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas were missing through injury. Wenger was determined to end the trophy drought that had begun to build up.
A poor first half saw Robin Van Persie get himself injured while scoring the goal to cancel out Zigic’s opener. The second half was not much better, with Arsenal failing to capitalise on the chances they created, while simultaneously allowing Birmingham to create opportunities of their own. Then the catastrophe happened.
A harmless ball came floating into the Arsenal area, missing all Birmingham strikers on its way through, falling into the path of Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny. As he went to kick the ball, he was completely unaware of Arsenal ‘keeper Wojciech Szczęsny coming to collect the ball. The two players collided and the ball rolled slowly into the path of Birmingham striker Obafemi Martins. He did what all strikers would do given an open goal from 12 yards out; calmly put it in the back of the net.
Birmingham won the Carling Cup. Arsenal did not. It would take another 3 years for Arsenal to finally end the trophy drought that plagued the club for nearly a decade.
9) Marton Fulop’s Goal Keeping 2012
Arsenal were 10 points behind Tottenham when the two sides met in February 2012. Tottenham then proceeded to score the first 2 goals of that game at the Emirates. Arsenal, however, got the next 5. Arsenal managed to overturn the rest of the point deficit in order to take race for the last Champions League spot to the last day of the season. With Chelsea still to play in the final, finishing 3rd was the only guaranteed entry into the competition.
Unlike 6 years previously, it was Arsenal who had the control over which team were to finish above the other. Needing to beat West Brom away from home, it was task that shouldn’t have been a problem for Wenger’s men. However, with only 3 points from the last 4 games, it was by no means a given that Arsenal would come out of the Hawthorns with 3 points.
West Brom had signed Marton Fulop in August 2011 on a one year. Since that day, he had played in two league cup matches. This was his chance to prove to the club why they should extend his contract. It is fair to say, he did not take it. 3 minutes into the game, Fulop decided to come out of the box to get the ball, only to change his mind and try and re-enter his penalty area, in that time Yossi Benayoun pounced, putting Arsenal ahead.
The next two goals were taken by West Brom, as Shane Long and Graham Dorrans managed to secure 2 goals in 4 minutes to put the baggies in front. On the half hour mark, Alex Song stole the ball in midfield and laid it off to Andre Santos, whose tame effort trickled passed Fulop to give Arsenal the equaliser. The Hungarian keeper could have done more to stop the goal. 10 minutes into the second half and Marton Fulop was at fault again. A corner taken by Van Persie sailed the ball aimlessly into the area, floating at the edge of the 6 yard area, only for Fulop to come charging out of his goal and punch the ball into the path of Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny, who scored the 5th goal of the game.
That goal was enough to ensure Arsenal’s dominance over Tottenham, and more importantly, qualification to the Champions League for one more year.
10) FA Cup Final 2014- Gibbs’ Goal Line Clearance
Without Gibbs’ goal line block, Arsene Wenger would not be Arsenal manager today. The boss’ contract was due to expire a month after the final, and had Arsenal not won the FA cup, Wenger would not have signed a new contract. As Arsenal’s 9th season without a trophy loomed large, an impressive run to the final, beating Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton, saw Arsenal faced up against Hull in the final. A team they had beaten 3-0 just over a month before the final.
After 9 minutes, Arsenal were 2-0 down, due to some questionable defending from 2 set pieces. Moments later, Alex Bruce had the opportunity to get a 3rd Hull goal, putting the game out of reach for Arsenal. Kieran Gibbs, however, showed that not all set pieces had to result in a goal for Hull.
As the game wore on, Arsenal found more of a rhythm, aided by Santi Cazorla’s stunning free kick, pulling one back for the gunners. A 71st minute equaliser by Laurent Koscielny took the game into extra time, where the player of the season, Aaron Ramsey, netted the winner. It turned out that the cliché of scoring too early being a bad thing was actually true for Hull. Arsenal were given 80 minutes to get at least 2 goals, and that they did. However, if the deficit had been 3, who knows if Arsenal would have been able to come back into the game.
The first piece of silverware in nearly a decade was all the motivation needed to convince Wenger that he was still the best man for the job, and sign himself up to three more years in the job.