Many tributes have been paid to outgoing Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, who will retire at the end of the season. Wherever you stand on the Frenchman’s record and legacy at Arsenal, there’s no denying his longevity at the club is impressive and is highly unlikely to be seen again in the modern game.
Although he will end his career with a losing record against the best clubs and managers, Wenger’s sides were annoyingly good at beating West Ham. We have a dreadful record against Arsenal in the Premier League era.
But the victories, when they came, tasted oh so sweet. Maybe it’s because Wenger and his teams are among the sorest losers we’ve seen in this league, maybe it’s because it always feels good to get one over on the big boys – but there are few better results in this league than leaving Wenger with egg on his face. Here are the five best times we did it:
1. The last team to win at Highbury
This one will go down as the time West Ham ruined Sol Campbell, who came off at half-time after a nightmare 45 minutes. Nigel Reo-Coker eased past a feeble challenge from the defender and slotted home for the opener. Minutes later, Bobby Zamora shrugged off the England international with a simple turn and planted a shot into the top corner for a 2-0 lead against the run of play. Matt Etherington scored a third in the second-half as West Ham held on for victory.
The win was made more impressive by the fact that it came against one of Arsenal’s great sides. Just two seasons removed from their unbeaten season, their line-up that day featured Campbell, Ljungberg, Pires, Bergkamp, Henry and a young Van Persie. Arsenal would ultimately reach the Champions League final that season. On the flip-side, West Ham will go down as the last visiting team to win at Highbury. Title-winners Chelsea were the only other team to win there all season. Not bad from Pardew’s men.
2. The first team to win at the Emirates
Arsenal were hoping their new, huge, state-of-the-art stadium would take them to new heights and success that they would never have been able to achieve at Highbury. But it was quickly a sense of ‘the more things change, the more things stay the same’, as West Ham trolled their way to victory once more, ending Arsenal’s unbeaten start to life in their new home which had impressively stretched until April. Zamora was the Gunners’ nemesis yet again. Bobby beat the offside trap on half time to score the only goal of a game that Arsenal completely dominated. Rob Green made a string of fine saves to keep a new-look Arsenal at bay.
“It’s difficult to say we had a bad game because we should have scored 10 and yet we lost the game”, said Wenger afterwards.
3. Pardew celebrates, Harewood scores late winner
Fair Alan Pardew. We love you for getting us promoted and then getting us to a cup final. There’s a few things we don’t love you for as well, but surely your finest hour was on a Sunday afternoon in November 2006. This was the last of Arsène’s truly great sides, just a few months on from their trip to the Champions League final. West Ham met them blow for blow, in an Upton Park atmosphere to match.
In an energetic game, Arsenal were wasteful with chances and the Hammers again had Green to thank for some fine saves, while we squandered several good opportunities of our own. But one minute from time, Marlon Harewood met a low Matty Etherington cross to fire in the winning goal.
Pardew celebrated in true last-minute style, celebrating boisterously and practically in Wenger’s face. Pardew punched the air and fist-pumps directly at the opposing manager, eye-balling him all the way. The beaten manager took exception and pushed Pardew away. There are few things better than winning in the last minute against of Europe’s top teams – except when we manage to really piss their manager off.
4. Bilic wins his first game, Özil shut down by a kid
“Petr Cech could take Arsenal to the title”, they said. “He’ll get them an extra 10 points”, they said. How Hammers fans laughed as we trolled our way to an unlikely win at a sunny Emirates on the first day of the 2015/16 season. The match featured the debut of not only Arsenal’s game-changer of a goalkeeper – who has led them to an impressive 0 league titles in his three seasons there – but also Slaven Bilic, Reece Oxford and Dimitri Payet. Payet ran the show as we had a first glimpse of what a magnificent player the Reunion-born Frenchman would prove to be. Meanwhile Bilic took the credit for a tactically sound and defensively solid display (yes, that actually happened).
But most impressive of all was 16-year-old Oxford, who, in the defensive-midfield role kept Arsenal’s fearsome front line, specifically Mesut Özil, quiet all game. In one of the great troll wins, Arsenal had 62% possession and 22 shots but were left goalless. They might have nicked a draw but Cech misjudged Payet’s cross for the first goal before being easily beaten by Mauro Zarate for the second.
5. Vieira sees red as Paolo works his magic
It speaks volumes that it took until October 1999 for West Ham to beat Arsenal in the league under Wenger. But on this day the Hammers were inspired by two brilliant Paolo Di Canio goals. The first came when he picked the ball up on the half-way line and took on the entire Arsenal defence. The ball broke in the box to Sinclair, and after a scramble the Italian was on hand to finish the move he started. Then Di Canio expertly turned Keown and fired past Seaman for the second. West Ham held on for a 2-1 victory.
Characteristic of Arsenal’s inability to hack losing a game they should be winning, Patrick Vieira was sent off for going in late on Di Canio after a marvellous piece of control, before confronting the referee, shoving Neil Ruddock and then spitting at him. Sore loser? Moi? Still, Arsenal supporters would surely have the tenacious, bullish side they had in this era over their current set of flaky Instagrammers in a heartbeat.
Overall, I think Arsène Wenger deserves a lot of credit for some great sides he was able to build with Arsenal. In spells between 1998 and 2006 there’s no doubt Arsenal had one of the best sides in the world. And while he deserves an appropriate send off for 22 years of honest and dedicated service to his club, his record deserves more robust scrutiny than it’s currently getting.
The mediocrity and decay that he allowed to fester at Arsenal for a decade was never properly noticed by the North London journalists until this season, and Arsène was given an easy ride on a record that would never have been tolerated for the likes of Ferguson or Mourinho.
I’ve already mentioned in reference to a couple of these matches but Wenger’s sides were among the sorest and most classless losers in the league, and Wenger has got unnecessarily personal on multiple occasions when criticising players, managers and especially referees when things don’t go his way, while turning a blind eye when it suits him, for instance to his own side’s diving.
Again, Wenger deserves credit for his titles – and for building around the turn of the millennium one of the best sides in English football recently, as well as the Premier League’s most memorable rivalry – with Manchester United.
But as bloggers at former Man United fanzine Red Issue pointed out on Twitter: when Wenger took over at Arsenal it was five years since they’d won the league – it’s now 14. It was 2 years since they’d won a European trophy – it’s now 24. Moreover the three league titles the club won under Wenger in 22 years is also the same amount as they won in the 24 years preceding him. They’ve still never won the European Cup despite having arguably the best team in Europe over a span between 2004-06. Is Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal one of success, or of underachievement?
West Ham didn’t beat him often, but how sweet would one final troll win taste this afternoon? Come on you Irons!