Despite calls to quit, veteran manager finds himself going strong as he celebrates 21st anniversary at club with win over 45th different Premier League opponent
Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger both riding wave of momentum despite challenges
A landmark day for Arsene Wenger brought with it a milestone mark.
Twenty-one years after his appointment as Arsenal manager, the Frenchman vanquished a 45th different Premier League opponent.
His side defeated Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0 on Sunday, lifting Wenger above Alex Ferguson. Once great adversaries, they had been locked together on 44. In a career often compared to Manchester United’s great Scot, rather now for sustainability than success, Wenger has separated himself from not only the rest, but from the best, too.
It maintained Arsenal’s recent recovery. Since being crushed at Liverpool last month, they have claimed five wins from six games, the only “blot” a commendable draw at champions Chelsea. Arsenal entered the season’s first international break is disarray. They head into the next one point off third.
The latest victory arrived less than three days after the Europa League triumph at Bate Borisov. From Belarus to Brighton in 64 hours. As a result, Wenger made nine changes for the match at the Emirates Stadium, with the match-winners hardly score-sheet stalwarts.
Defender Nacho Monreal got the opener on 16 minutes, his first goal in the Premier League dating back 1,660 days to March 2013. In between, he had played 136 matches. Eleven minutes into the second half, Alex Iwobi doubled Arsenal’s advantage, only his sixth league goal for the club in 42 appearances. His past five in the Premier League have all come at home.
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The fifth had much to do with the enterprise of Alex Sanchez. A summer of discontent has cast a long shadow, but this suggested thoughts of a move away have been placed on hold. Sanchez set up Iwobi with an explosion of invention and an impudent back-heel.
Minutes later, the Chilean should have had a goal himself, but for Lewis Dunk’s goalline clearance. It would have provided a busy afternoon’s work a deserved flourish. In all, Sanchez had more shots (8), created more chances (6) and attempted the most take-ons (4) of any player on the pitch.
He has been involved in 35 goals - 24 goals, 11 assists - since the beginning of last season, more than double that of any teammate. His final season or not, Sanchez’s contribution remains crucial.
So, too, were the three points. The previous day, Tottenham Hotspur had hit four at Huddersfield Town. Manchester United did the same at home to Crystal Palace. Late in the evening, Manchester City went to Chelsea and departed with title credentials underlined.
Therefore Arsenal needed to win. Before kick-off, Wenger described victory as “absolutely vital”. Brighton had only beaten Arsenal twice in 16 attempts, both coming in 1982, each not long after Wenger had called time on a modest playing career.
His move into management has been more memorable. In 797 Premier League matches across 21 years, he has 461 wins. Yet it has been 13 years since the last of his three top-flight titles. He could have left in the summer. Many wanted him to. Nostalgia had become his nemesis.
For now, though, the present seems a little more solid. Arsenal have won four on the bounce at home without conceding a goal. Sanchez is slowly returning to form. Alexandre Lacazette would have had a fifth goal since his record transfer from Lyon had it not been for a sturdy post. Mesut Ozil’s absence through injury was negated.
So Arsenal celebrated Wenger's landmark day by gifting him a milestone mark. Much like their manager, their momentum sustains.