Football

Published: Friday March 21, 2014 MYT 12:07:07 AM
Updated: Friday March 21, 2014 MYT 12:08:46 AM

Wenger follows Chapman's path to success at Arsenal

LONDON (Reuters) - When Arsene Wenger walked into Highbury Stadium for the first time in 1996, he was faced with the man whose legacy colours every aspect of Arsenal thinking.

At the top of the stairs in the marble entrance hall was a bronze bust of Herbert Chapman, the manager who turned the London club into English football's dominant force in the 1930s.

Chapman had claimed two league titles with Huddersfield Town before being persuaded to join Arsenal where he won another two and the FA Cup, the club's first trophy, in 1930.

There would be another 10 managers including Chapman's successor George Allison, who won the championship twice, and Bertie Mee, architect of the league and FA Cup double in 1971, before Wenger started a reign that reaches 1,000 games this weekend at Chelsea.

But Chapman was considered the gold standard for his tactical skills, astuteness in the transfer market and his building of an Arsenal style of play that dovetailed with the ideals of Wenger 60 years later.

"Spectators want a fast-moving spectacle, rapier-like attacks that have the spirit of adventure, and ever more goals," Chapman wrote in the early 1930s. Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Mesut Ozil show Wenger's belief in the same philosophy.

Arsenal's modern-day parsimony over transfer fees and players' wages relative to clubs like Manchester City or Chelsea was already evident when Chapman was in the club's sights.

Their advertisement in 1925 for a manager warned "gentlemen whose sole ability to build up a good side depends on the payment of heavy and exorbitant transfer fees need not apply".

Chapman was an innovator.

He used the counter-attack as a fundamental tactic and finessed the 3-4-3 formation, rather than the traditional 2-3-5. He put numbers on players' backs, supported the introduction of floodlights and played competitive games against European sides.

And, like Wenger in his early days, he had a good eye for spotting and buying players who would fit into, and improve, his side and system.

He took forward Charlie Buchan from Sunderland and made him Arsenal captain and the England international was followed by other big names like Alex James, David Jack and Cliff Bastin.

James was the team's driving force for much of the decade but Chapman died suddenly of pneumonia in January 1934, in the middle of Arsenal's third title-winning season.

Allison stepped down soon after the end of World War Two, handing over to Tom Whittaker, the first team trainer under Chapman, who claimed the league title in 1948 and 1953 before also dying in harness in 1956.

By then Arsenal were losing their cachet, failing to attract top players or win trophies. The drought extended for 17 years until Mee's side won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, beating Anderlecht 4-3 after losing the first leg 3-1 in Belgium.

Mee had been the club's physiotherapist and was not the only one surprised that he was asked to succeed former England captain Billy Wright in the Highbury hot seat in 1966.

Perhaps because of his background in the game, Mee knew what made players tick and he astutely covered any gaps in his CV by recruiting Dave Sexton and Don Howe, both destined to become top managers, as his coaches.

Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, Pat Rice, Charlie George and David O'Leary came through from the youth team and in 1970-71 Arsenal became only the second team, after north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, to win the double.

Mee resigned in 1976 and was succeeded by Terry Neill, who arrived from Spurs and steered Arsenal to FA Cup success in 1979. Howe took over in 1983 and, after an unsuccessful three years, he resigned, the last English manager of Arsenal.

In stepped George Graham, a man about whom football fans throughout England still have strong feelings. A fine Arsenal and Scotland midfielder and forward in his playing days, Graham's managerial philosophy revolved around gritty defence.

The chant "1-0 to the Arsenal" - and often "Boring, boring Arsenal" - echoed around the stadiums of England and Europe during his nine years in charge as they won two league titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups and the European Cup Winners' Cup.

"Winning isn't just about pretty football. It's about hunger, application," said Graham who was sacked in 1995 after accepting an illegal payment during a transfer.

He left behind a back four based around centre-half and captain Tony Adams, and supported by England goalkeeper David Seaman, that would serve as Wenger's bedrock in his early years.

While Graham's successor, Bruce Rioch, was in charge for only a year, he bought Dennis Bergkamp from Inter Milan, another vital piece of the title-winning mosaic that Wenger would assemble after he entered the marble halls 18 years ago.

Just like Chapman in the 1930s, the club realised they needed to learn from the continental game and Frenchman Wenger was the surprising choice to be Arsenal's first foreign manager.

Success followed in his first full season with the double in 1998, and further league titles followed in 2002 and 2004, the season Arsenal went through the whole season unbeaten.

In 2007, Wenger's likeness was also cast in bronze, a tribute to what the club described as the "exhilarating brand of football" that its most successful manager had championed at Highbury and the new Emirates Stadium.

The unveiling came two years after Arsenal's last success under Wenger, his fourth FA Cup win. But since then the keys to the Arsenal trophy cabinet have not been needed.

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