Arsene Wenger became the most successful manager in the history of the FA Cup by winning the competition for a seventh time on Saturday.
The injury-hit Gunners produced an excellent performance to defeat Premier League champions Chelsea and claim the trophy for the 13th time in club history, which is also a record.
The victory comes with Wenger’s future up in the air amid a backlash from fans over Arsenal’s failure to challenge for the league title and their absence from the Champions League for the 2017-18 campaign.
How, though, does the Frenchman’s record stack up as a whole in the context of the club’s history?
Arsenal were first promoted to the First Division of English football in 1904. In the 91 seasons they have completed since then (11 were lost to World Wars I and II) they have won 13 league titles, 13 FA Cups and two League Cups, in addition to a number of other more minor trophies.
That works out at one league title or FA Cup per three-and-half seasons or so. With his league three championships in 21 seasons Wenger is almost exactly at the club average, which is just a touch better than one every seven campaigns.
As far as FA Cups are concerned, however, he is clearly above the norm; Wenger has accounted for more than half of Arsenal’s wins in that competition, claiming one every three seasons.
Also supporting Wenger’s case is the fact that prior to his arrival, it had taken Arsenal 43 years to win their previous three league titles. The Frenchman has indisputably overseen the second-best period in club history after the dominance of the 1930s started by Herbert Chapman and continued by Joe Shaw and George Allison.
Wenger is clearly the most decorated manager in Arsenal history, even if George Graham can add a European Cup Winners’ Cup and two League Cups to his resume. He is the first, however, to survive over a decade since he last delivered a league title, surpassing the nine years Allison held on after being crowned champion in 1937-38. The duration of his reign as a whole is also unprecedented in club history.
That, as it happens, just about gets to the crux of the issue for most Arsenal fans; Wenger’s first 10 years in charge were a lot better than his second.
Wenger’s first decade in charge was at Highbury, and few Arsenal fans had any serious complaints about his management as the club prepared to move to the Emirates Stadium to get his second decade underway in 2006.
The ex-Monaco boss had delivered three English championships – including the incredible ‘Invincibles’ season – to go with four FA Cups and the Gunners had also got better and better in Europe, finishing as Champions League runners-up to Barcelona in 2005-06.
The mood, then, was one of cautious optimism. It was accepted that the switch to the Emirates might slow their progress down temporarily due to the costs of opening the new stadium and the rebuilding of the team post-Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, but the hope was that the 60,000 seater would cement Arsenal’s place among Europe’s elite in the long term.
That has been borne out in the sense that Arsenal have never failed to reach the Champions League knockout stage since they opened their new home, but they have never been back to the final and their record of reaching the last eight is no better than it was in the 10 years prior.
Most worryingly, those three quarter-final and semi-final appearances all came between 2007 and 2010, with the Gunners failing to advance beyond the last 16 in the seven seasons since.
They have been shut out in the Premier League, too, and last season’s second-place finish was the first time they have even been runners up in the league since moving to the Emirates. They have only once topped the 80-point mark they hit three times in Wenger’s first decade.
The Arsenal board, then, face a difficult decision. Never has a previous Arsenal manager lasted as long as Wenger without a title, but neither has changing the coach regularly brought about instant success. With the move to the Emirates and the ticket prices that have accompanied it, however, expectations in north London are quite different now to at any other point in club history.
Wenger’s third decade, at least, has started with an FA Cup victory that makes him the most successful manager in the competition’s history.