Wenger still the revolutionary 13 years on

LONDON - When Arsene Wenger strolled into Arsenal's famous Highbury stadium in 1996 to become the club's first overseas manager few could have envisaged the revolution that was about to unfold in English football.

Arsenal have since evolved from a team built on the traditional English attributes of hard graft, defensive craft and a team spirit forged in snooker halls and bars into a club synonymous with sophistication and breathtaking attacking flair.

While that is all down to Wenger, he did not simply arrive and rip up all that went before. Had he done that it is unlikely the former Monaco coach would have been toasting becoming the club's longest-serving and most successful manager on Thursday.

The deep-thinking Frenchman and self-confessed football addict inherited a back four that provided the platform on which he could deliver his refined football philosophy to an unsuspecting English public.

Defensive colossus and captain Tony Adams, who along with Nigel Winterburn, Steve Bould and Lee Dixon formed the meanest defence in England, said the arrival of Wenger saved his career from the demons that dogged his personal life.

It was fitting that he led the side to the 1997-98 league and cup double in Wenger's first full season at the helm.

For all Wenger's love of artistic movement and intricate passing patterns, he has always known that a strong central core is vital for any side serious about collecting silverware.

HARD MEN

He signed French midfield hard men Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit early in a reign littered with red cards.

Marc Overmars, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and now Theo Walcott have all scorched the turf for Wenger with Henry arguably the most influential overseas player ever to join an English club.

"You have to remember, no matter where you end up, the people who helped make you along the way," said Henry, who scored a record 174 goals and was part of the 2003-04 Invincibles who won a third title under Wenger without losing a a match.

"I won the treble with Barcelona last year, but I know that if it wasn't for Arsene Wenger I would not be the player I am."

When Wenger arrived from the obscurity of the Japanese J-League, it also signified the start of one of the greatest rivalries in English club football as the London club challenged Alex Ferguson's Manchester United dynasty.

While Wenger and the abrasive Scot have not always been best friends there remains a bond of mutual respect between the two men, both for their durability and footballing principles.

Wenger spoke of his pride this week that he has overseen the club's move from Highbury to the gleaming Emirates stadium while still delivering teams challenging for honours.

LUXURIOUS STYLE

Arsenal have not won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup but few of the 60,000 who pack the stadium every other week would ever criticise Wenger who has given them a luxurious style of football without sinking the club in debt.

"I wouldn't be happy to work in a club that loses 30 million pounds each year," Wenger, who has won three league titles, four FA Cups and reached the Champions League final, a competition they have been involved in for 12 years in a row.

"If you see where we are today, I think we have a strong side, and a strong financial footing, so we haven't done badly," he said.

With the club announcing a record 32 million pounds profit this week it appears that Arsenal are perfectly positioned to break the Manchester United/Chelsea monopoly.

Youg French defender Gael Clichy said his compatriot's love and passion for football was infectious.

"The passion he puts into the game shows through. At training, he is the first to arrive and the last to leave. For me he is one of the best managers in Europe," Clichy told Arsenal's website (www.arsenal.com).

"You want to learn from him and give him back that confidence. We are the players we are today because of him."