The club have only employed 11 managers since Herbert Chapman's nine-year tenure ended in 1934.It impressed the Highbury faithful, as did his preference for relatively unknown young players to major chequebook acquisitions once they had observed the merit of performers such as Patrick Vieira and subsequently Nicolas Anelka. And so Les Rouges have flowed in: Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord, Robert Pires. And the African players: Kanu, Lauren, Kolo Tour?and the Brazilians Edu and Gilberto, too. Not to mention a Swede, Freddie Ljungberg, and a Dutchman, Marc Overmars, who was so crucial to the 1997-98 Double.Anelka, Petit and Overmars have moved on. But these days, strangely, everyone wants to stay at Highbury.
Even if they were otherwise motivated, Wenger has persuaded the board to resist overtures "We have tried hard to keep our best players," he says. "Since the Anelka episode, we have fought, no matter how much money we could get The team have grown because they have stayed together You look at your best friends They are the guys who were with you at school. You were together for seven, eight years, and you know you can trust them It is the same with a football team. If you lose several every year it is not the same."He adds: "The board have always supported me even though I am not always easy. But I have no problems in convincing them to keep our best players because they want the best of the team. What is the reason I pushed the board to develop a new stadium? Because I want to keep our best players and pay them the same money as they could get somewhere else."So, what does enter the Wenger mind as he watches from the sidelines this amalgam of talent, bonded so rigidly together, apart from the constant search for imperfections, some as minuscule as an item in a forensic scientist's evidence? Already he looks ahead. Who will replace Dennis Bergkamp when he departs, possibly next summer after eight years with the club The word is David Trezeguet of Juventus True or not, Wenger's eye is constantly roving.
He will not permit himself to sit back and appreciate his work.He understands what Sunderland's Peter Reid is going through, albeit from a different perspective "I have been in these situations as well. There were times at Monaco and Nancy, and when you lose two games at Arsenal you are under the same pressure as somebody who loses five games somewhere else.He adds: "Overall it's tougher at the bottom, because there the whole existence of the club is threatened To go out of the Premiership means to nearly die. But here in March or April, you know the future of the club depends on being in the Champions' League or not. That's a big pressure and it's comparable."So is the expectation that Arsenal's undefeated sequence will continue. Already, the more impetuous of our pundits cannot resist proclaiming the club's predominance.
"The best Premiership team ever", opines Sky's Andy Gray, although Sir Alex Ferguson, and one or two others, might have something to say about that.Wenger doesn't believe Gray's is a premature observation. "I agree with that, but we want to show it and only our achievements will confirm it," he says.Intriguingly, United's England defender Gary Neville has his doubts, though he may prefer to file his latest utterance in a depository marked Things I Wish I'd Never Said. "You're not as good as you think you are," he declared about Wenger's men Oh dear On the eve of Leeds 1 Arsenal 4, too. By the end of the season – who knows? – his words may well be vindicated, along with the contention: "Arsenal were better four years ago".