The last time Arsene Wenger celebrated a milestone as coach, the Arsenal boss was celebrating game No. 1,000 on the bench and his opponent was Chelsea, who ended up winning 6-0. That was over two years ago, and Wenger is still standing. It was appropriate, then, that Arsenal’s opponent to mark the 20-year anniversary of his taking charge was Chelsea.
More than any other team, Chelsea has marked Wenger’s reign; first as one of the many teams Arsenal beat during the glorious first half of his tenure with the Gunners; then, after Roman Abramovich bought the Blues and Arsenal cut its cloth to finance a new stadium move, as a symbol of ‘financial doping’ that Wenger rejected. Wenger rose above Jose Mourinho’s ‘win at all costs’ mantra and a recent book released about the Portuguese coach suggests that the animosity between the two was not just for the cameras.
So after Arsenal swatted aside Antonio Conte’s Chelsea 3-0 in a dominant performance at the Emirates–ending a winless run of nine Premier Leauge matches over five years against the Blues–Wenger allowed himself extra satisfaction. Even Gunners fans still split on Wenger could agree that the first-half performance was close to perfection; Alexis Sanchez pressed Gary Cahill into giving the ball away for the first goal, the irrepressible Mesut Ozil volleyed in a second and Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott combined for a delightful third. This was the performance that lives long in the memory for a romantic like Wenger; it also makes all those stressful moments worthwhile.
This will not affect his future at Arsenal. Wenger is in the final year of his contract and many still believe his presence is holding back the club. The only person who will choose what happens next, though, is Wenger himself. The Arsenal board thinks he has earned that right after the last 20 years. In any other business environment, it would be impossible to agree.