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Every season in Arsene Wenger's managerial career: Arsenal Invincibles, journey to Japan, and lots of FA Cups

The latest issue of FourFourTwo celebrates the 100 greatest managers of all time – and without wanting to spoil it, a certain Professeur makes the cut (but you'll have to buy the mag to see the full list).

And with the 16th anniversary of Arsenal completing their unbeaten Premier League season, we thought we'd celebrate the whole managerial career of Arsene Wenger...

(Image credit: Future)

Nancy 1984/85

Wenger’s first head coach role came at French top-flight club Nancy in 1984, after the Frenchman had impressed as assistant manager to Jean-Marc Guillou at Ligue 2 side Cannes. Nancy were strongly tipped to be relegated in the 1984-85 season but Wenger steered the club to an 11th-placed finish in his debut season as manager. 

Nancy went out at the last-16 stage of the Coupe de France, courtesy of a 5-2 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain. 

Nancy 1985/86

After a positive first season in management, Wenger found matters more difficult during the following season, as Nancy finished the Ligue 1 campaign in 18th place and faced a relegation play-off tie against second-tier club FC Mulhouse to stay in the top-flight. A 3-0 first-leg win proved critical for Wenger’s side as they went on to lose 2-0 in the return leg. 

Nancy 1986-87

Ahead of the 1986-87 season, Nancy faced financial difficulties and were forced to sell their key players, something Wenger would become accustomed to later in his career. The club mustered only eight wins in the league and finished in 19th place, culminating in Nancy’s relegation to Ligue 2. 

Monaco 1987/88

Honours: Ligue 1 winners

Despite his troubled third season in management, Wenger accepted a job to become the new Monaco manager in 1987. After financial troubles at Nancy, the French coach now had great wealth at his disposal in the transfer market. 

New signings such as Tottenham Hotspur’s Glenn Hoddle and AC Milan’s Mark Hateley became key players for the Ligue 1 club as the latter scored 14 goals to help Monaco become league champions and give Wenger his first major honour as a coach. 

Monaco 1988/89

Wenger helped himself to more key signings in the 1988-98 season, including Liberian striker George Weah who scored 14 league goals that season and formed a dynamic partnership with top-scorer Hoddle who netted 18. 

But Monaco failed to defend their Ligue 1 crown that year despite scoring more goals and registering more points than their title-winning campaign the year before. Wenger’s side finished in third spot behind champions Marseille and runners-up PSG, while they were beaten 4-3 by OM in the Coupe de France final thanks to Jean-Pierre Papin’s hat-trick. 

Monaco 1989/90

Monaco achieved yet another third-place finish under Wenger in the 1989-90 league season despite Argentinian striker Ramon Diaz scoring 15 league goals for the club. They finished seven points behind back-to-back winners Marseille but had the division’s strongest defence - conceding just 24 goals in 38 league matches. 

Monaco 1990/91

Honours: Coupe de France winners

Two years after Papin’s cup final hat-trick, Monaco and Wenger finally got their revenge on Marseille by beating the league champions 1-0 in the 1991 Coupe de France final thanks to a last-minute goal from substitute Gerald Passi. Wenger’s side improved slightly in the league, finishing as runner-ups to OM. 

Monaco 1991/92

It was another season of oh-so-nearlys for Wenger’s Monaco in 1991/92, as the club finished second behind Marseille in the league once again, while they also lost the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final 2-0 to German side Werder Bremen

Monaco 1992/93

Another third-place finish for Wenger’s Monaco in the league came in a 1992/93 season that will go down in history in French football folklore. Marseille won Ligue 1 once again but were stripped of their title due to a match-fixing scandal. Runners-up Paris Saint-Germain refused to be given first-place so the Ligue 1 title went to nobody that season. 

Monaco 1993/94

Despite signing German forward Jurgen Klinsmann from Inter Milan, Monaco had their most disappointing domestic season under Wenger, finishing in ninth place in Ligue 1 and going out on penalties to Marseille at the Coupe de France last-16 stage. 

Yet Wenger’s side embarked on a memorable Champions League run, making it to the semi-finals of Europe’s top cup competition before being knocked out by eventual winners AC Milan, who were managed by Fabio Capello. 

Monaco 1994/95

The 1994/95 season saw Wenger sacked for the one and only time in his career. After Monaco turned down Bayern Munich’s attempt to poach Wenger in the summer of 1994, the Frenchman was dismissed by Monaco in September 1994 with the club languishing in 17th place in the league. 

Nagoya Grampus Eight 1995

Honours: Emperor's Cup winners

Wenger then took over Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, who had finished in last place at the bottom of the country’s J League the season before. 

After a difficult start to his time in Japan - where he won just once in his first eight league games - Wenger’s side began a major resurgence and ended the season as league runners-up and also won the 1995 Emperors Cup, beating Sanfreece Hiroshima 3-0 in the final to earn Grampus Eight’s first-ever major honour in their history. He was also awarded the 1995 J League Manager of the Year Award. 

Nagoya Grampus Eight 1996

Honours: Japanese Super Cup

Wenger started the 1996 season by beating Yokahoma Marinos 2-0 in the Japanese Super Cup. And mid-way through the J League season, Wenger was approached by Arsenal to take over from Bruce Rioch in north London. The Frenchman’s last match in charge of Grampus Eight came in August 1996. 

Arsenal 1996/97

‘Arsene Who?’ was the cry when Wenger arrived at Arsenal in September 1996, and his first season at Highbury saw the foundations of what would be a memorable career in north London. His first match saw his Arsenal side beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0 at Ewood Park thanks to an Ian Wright brace, who would go on to finish as the club’s top scorer that year. 

The Gunners finished the Premier League season in third place, level on points with runners-up Newcastle United and seven behind champions Manchester United. They crashed out of the two domestic cup competitions at the fourth round stages to Liverpool and Leeds United, while Arsenal lost in the UEFA Cup first knockout round to Borussia Monchengladbach

Arsenal 1997/98

Honours: Premier League and FA Cup winners

Wenger rewrote the record book in his first full season in charge at Arsenal, winning the 1998 league and cup double, thereby becoming the first foreign manager to ever win the Premier League. The Gunners were 12 points behind leaders Manchester United in early February but won 14 out of their next 15 games to pip Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to the title. 

They also won the FA Cup thanks to a 2-0 final win over Newcastle thanks to goals from Nicolas Anelka and Marc Overmars. Dutch duo Dennis Bergkamp and Overmars notched 38 goals between them that season, while Anelka and Wright’s partnership added another 20. 

Arsenal 1998/99

After the euphoric rise to power in 1998, the following season was a disappointment for Wenger as Manchester United won the treble to dominate European football that season. The Red Devils won the league by a point on the final day of the season, with a 1-0 defeat to Leeds at Elland Road on matchday 37 proving fatal for the Gunners. 

United beat Arsenal 2-1 in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park thanks to that Ryan Giggs solo goal, while the Gunners crashed out in a Champions League group which consisted of Dynamo Kyiv, Panathinaikos and French side Lens. A 5-0 League Cup fourth-round defeat at home to Chelsea was another blow. 

Arsenal 1999/2000

Honours: Charity Shield

Arsenal must have hated the sight of penalty shootouts in the 1999-2000 season. After finishing third in their Champions League group, the Gunners moved into the UEFA Cup and ended up losing on spot-kicks to Galatasaray in the final after a frustrating 0-0 draw. They also went out of the FA Cup and League Cup on penalties to Leicester City and Middlesbrough respectively. 

Despite beating United in the Charity Shield in August, the Gunners ended up finishing 18 points behind Ferguson’s men in second place. It wasn’t all bad for Wenger though, as a new signing by the name of Thierry Henry had a positive debut campaign, finishing as the club’s top scorer with 26 goals. 

Arsenal 2000/01

It was another trophyless season in north London for Wenger, as a 10-point gap separated Arsenal and champions Manchester United in the table. The Gunners then ended up as FA Cup runners-up after giving up a 1-0 lead to lose to Liverpool, in a match which is rightly branded ‘The Michael Owen final’. 

Arsenal finally reached the Champions League knockout stages for the first time under Wenger, but gave up another lead to lose on away goals to Valencia at the quarter-final stage. 

Arsenal 2001/02

Honours: Premier League and FA Cup winners

Four years after his first, Wenger managed a second league and cup double. After a mixed start to the season, the Gunners won 15 out of their final 16 Premier League games of the season and clinched the league title by beating Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford thanks to a Sylvain Wiltord goal. 

Goals from Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg earned a 2-0 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, too. Now-Arsenal talisman Thierry Henry scored 32 goals in 49 appearances, while Wiltord, Bergkamp, Ljungberg and FWA Player of the Year, Robert Pires, all notched up double figures for the season. 

Arsenal 2002/03

Honours: FA Cup winners

The Gunners looked to be heading for another Premier League triumph after being top at Christmas, but too many draws in the second half of the season gave the Premier League trophy back to Manchester United. Arsenal did manage to retain the FA Cup in a run which saw them beat Chelsea and Manchester United on the way to triumphing over Southampton in the final thanks to a Robert Pires winner. 

Arsenal 2003/04

Honours: unbeaten Premier League winners

Played 38. Won 26. Drawn 12. Lost 0. Arsenal romped to the Premier League title without a wound to their name all season. 

What made the Invincibles season even better was sealing the title at the home of arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur and celebrating a perennial success on the White Hart Lane turf. Semi-final exits in the cup competitions and a painful defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-finals put a small black mark on the campaign as a whole, but Wenger remains the only Premier League manager to win the title without losing a single match.

Arsenal 2004/05 

Honours: FA Cup and Charity Shield winners

Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten run came to an end in controversial circumstances at Old Trafford as a contentious Ruud Van Nistelrooy penalty and a Wayne Rooney strike gave Ferguson’s side victory in a bitter and hot-headed encounter. The match derailed Arsenal’s winter form and London rivals Chelsea took advantage to win the league by 12 points. 

Wenger managed to lure the FA Cup back to north London, however, thanks to a fortunate penalty shootout win over Manchester United. 

Arsenal 2005/06

The season saw the beginning of the end of Arsenal’s time at the Premier League’s top table, but the Gunners’ Champions League run still lives long in the memory. Wenger helped Arsenal become the first London club to play in a Champions League final, beating Real Madrid, Juventus and a prime Villarreal side despite having to play Mathieu Flamini at left-back, following injuries to Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy. 

A 10-man Gunners team led Barcelona with minutes to go in the Paris final, before late strikes from Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti gave the Catalan side the win. Arsenal finished the Premier League season in fourth place, pipping Tottenham to a Champions League spot in the final game at their historic Highbury stadium. 

Arsenal 2006/07

Wenger took Arsenal into a new era at their new Emirates Stadium home which the Frenchman helped mould himself. Some teething problems occurred at their new ground which meant they struggled to keep up with Manchester United and Chelsea at the top of the table. Defeats to Blackburn Rovers and PSV Eindhoven meant their FA Cup and Champions League challenges came to a halt, while Didier Drogba haunted the Gunners in the League Cup final by scoring twice at the Millenium Stadium.

Arsenal 2007/08

Many thought Arsenal would struggle after selling star man Thierry Henry to Barcelona, but Wenger’s side did the opposite in the first half of the 2007/08 season. 

A new red-hot partnership of Emmanuel Adebayor and Eduardo Silva put the Gunners at the top of the table in February and into the Champions League and FA Cup quarter-finals. Yet a damaging leg-break to Eduardo in a trip to Birmingham City saw everything fall apart. 

Arsenal’s momentum in the league slumped, culminating in a third-place finish, while Wenger’s side exited the two cup competitions to Liverpool and Manchester United respectively. A big opportunity missed.

Arsenal 2008/09

Arsenal’s position in the Premier League top-four came under serious threat from Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa in the 2008/09 season, and while January signing Andrey Arshavin gave them the momentum to hold off Villa in the second half of the season, success in Wenger’s twelfth season at Arsenal was more likely to come in the cup formats. 

An FA Cup semi-final defeat to Didier Drogba and Chelsea pained Wenger greatly, while Cristiano Ronaldo struck in the Champions League semi-final second-leg between Arsenal and Manchester United to leave the Frenchman empty-handed. 

Arsenal 2009/10

Arsenal flirted with a Premier League title challenge after Christmas, but stumbled at the home straight by failing to win four out of their final five games of the season and finished 11 points behind Carlo Ancelotti’s champions in Chelsea. 

Another Champions League run looked likely as they led Barcelona on aggregate in the Champions League quarter-final second-leg at the Camp Nou, but four goals from Lionel Messi abruptly ended that run. 

Arsenal 2010/11

Another season where Wenger should have ended his trophy drought, which was now heading towards six seasons. 

In late February, Arsenal were top of the Premier League, preparing to face Birmingham City in the League Cup final, protecting a Champions League last-16 first-leg lead at Barcelona in the Nou Camp and into the FA Cup quarter-finals. Yet defeat to Birmingham saw Wenger’s side spiral downwards; Barcelona came back to win their last-16 tie, Manchester United knocked them out the cup and they slumped to fourth in the Premier League. 

Arsenal 2011/12 

Wenger was given an early-season blow as star men Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri jumped ship to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively. Thankfully for the French coach, he still had Robin Van Persie in his squad, who scored 30 Premier League goals to win the division’s Golden Boot award. 

Arsenal looked down and out in the race for Champions League football, with arch-rivals Spurs leading the Gunners by 13 points at one stage, but nine wins in ten Premier League games provided a platform for Arsenal to pip their rivals to fourth on the final day of the season. 

Despite Thierry Henry’s mid-season loan move from New York Red Bulls back to north London, Arsenal’s record goalscorer couldn’t act as a catalyst for any more cup successes. 

Arsenal 2012/13

Van Persie left for Manchester United the following season, meaning Wenger’s quest for glory became even harder. Tottenham threatened to finish fourth once again ahead of the Gunners, but Wenger dug deep once again, winning eight of the last ten Premier League games to secure another final-day qualification for the Champions League. 

Humbling cup defeats to lower-league Blackburn and Bradford City, however, meant that doubters were beginning to grow in numbers.

Arsenal 2013/14 

Honours: FA Cup winners

It took nine years but Wenger’s trophy drought finally came to an end thanks to his beloved FA Cup. Deadline day signing Mesut Ozil gave Arsenal a world-class feeling once again as the German playmaker helped Arsenal beat Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton on the way to defeat Hull City 3-2 in the final.

However, Wenger’s Gunners would still rue not completing a successful Premier League title challenge, having led the way for most of the season before stumbling in heavy defeats to rivals Chelsea and Liverpool, as Manchester City snuck in to win the league on the final day of the season.

Arsenal 2014/15

Honours: FA Cup winners

The boost of new star signing Alexis Sanchez did little to change Wenger’s fortunes in the Premier League, but the Chilean winger did help the Gunners seal a second-consecutive FA Cup, which came thanks to a 4-0 win over Aston Villa in the final. There was slight hope for another Champions League run when Arsenal avoided the big guns and were drawn against Wenger’s former side Monaco in the last-16 stage, but an away goals rule defeat acted as a serious disappointment.

Arsenal 2015/16

The year Wenger should have won his fourth Premier League title.

After a 2-1 win against shock leaders Leicester City on Valentines Day, Arsenal lay one point behind the Foxes with not only a game in hand but all the momentum going into the final run of games. Yet defeats to Manchester United and Swansea City in their next two games allowed Leicester to stoke fire into the fairytale cauldron once again and the Gunners had to settle for second behind Claudio Ranieri’s side.

A third FA Cup triumph was halted by a shock quarter-final defeat at home to Watford, leaving Wenger empty-handed once again. 

Arsenal 2016/17

Honours: FA Cup winners

Despite achieving a record seventh FA Cup triumph, it was the year many Arsenal fans began to turn on the long-serving Wenger. The Frenchman failed to finish in the top four with Arsenal for the first time in his career, while a 10-2 Champions League last-16 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich acted as another low point in the coach’s long tenure in north London.

Another memorable FA Cup triumph, which consisted of a semi-final victory over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City before beating new Premier League champions Chelsea in the final, gave Wenger the perfect exit achievement as his contract came to an end.

Arsenal 2017/18

Yet the Frenchman stayed for one more season at the club, and things became very ugly. 

A sixth-placed finish in the league, coupled with Wenger’s first-ever FA Cup third-round exit to Nottingham Forest, proved too much for even the man himself, who announced in April 2018 that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season. 

That set up an opportunity for Wenger to achieve a first-ever European trophy victory in the Europa League, but Diego Simone’s Atletico Madrid had other ideas at the semi-final stage. 

Wenger's final game in charge was a victory, away to Huddersfield Town in May 2018.

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