Beating Dortmund would be the perfect gift for Arsenal's birthday boy Arsène Wenger

Arsenal are playing champagne football but manager admits Tuesday night will be step up for team

Happy birthday, Arsène Wenger? It most certainly will be on Tuesday night if on the occasion of the Arsenal manager’s 64th his resurgent young team beat last season’s Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund to confirm their position as one of the most exciting teams in Europe.

It is saying something that Dortmund, the darlings of European football last season with a collection of brilliant young players and a maverick coach, are in town and yet they are still the underdogs at the Emirates. Last season’s conquerors of Real Madrid are second in the Bundesliga but for now the buzz is around Arsenal, especially their first goal against Norwich City on Saturday and the kind of football that has put them top of the Premier League.

It is enough to make a man one year short of the United Kingdom’s official retirement age very happy indeed, although Wenger welcomed the note of caution that was put to him yesterday about the calibre of opposition his side have faced thus far. With the possible exception of Tottenham Hotspur and Napoli, Arsenal are yet to face a team from Europe’s very top drawer, although that changes tonight.

“Of course, I agree,” Wenger said. “I have said that we will know more about ourselves after Dortmund, at the end of November [a month in which Arsenal play Liverpool at home, and both Dortmund and Manchester United away]. The real test is in front of us. We can’t be triumphant at the moment. We have big targets, big teams and big fixtures in front of us.”

Put simply, Wenger, who will not risk Mathieu Flamini after the concussion he suffered on Saturday, wants more from his team. He is still without Theo Walcott, Lucas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Yaya Sanogo and poor old Abou Diaby, and he feels strongly that his team can play better – “We are always looking for perfection and our game was not perfect”. Even so, quite understandably, currently top of the Premier League, he is enjoying the moment.

Champions League football means a rare glimpse of an Arsenal training session and so there was Wenger, on Monday, out in the drifting October rain, talking to his players before their session. He says that his birthday today will involve a few cards and phone-calls from friends but “if nobody reminds me I forget. It was always like that. Even when I was 25 or 30.” As for his players tonight he said, “I don’t want them to play for my birthday. I want them to enjoy playing together.”

Yet, even for a man as remorselessly focused on the fixture list as Wenger, the passing of time cannot be ignored. He still looks in good shape and his passion for his job, as the Arsenal board prepare to give him that new contract, is utterly undimmed by the years.

“Yes, of course,” he said on Monday when asked if he still felt the same way about his job as he did as a younger man. “Honestly? Yes. You will see when you are 64, what is amazing in life is that you don’t change. The second thing is that you don’t believe your age. When you say to me that I am at 64, I look behind me! Who is this guy who is 64? It is as simple as that. You never believe you are 64. When you are 50, you don’t believe you are 50. The only thing that is good is that internally you are still young, externally you become old.”

This time last year, Arsenal lost back-to-back games to Norwich away in the league and Schalke at home in the Champions League, part of a run of one win in seven games in all competitions. Now the mood has changed to the extent that there will scarcely be a murmur of protest when Wenger is, inevitably, handed a new contract.

Arsène Wenger sorts out the players' bibs during training at London Colney Arsène Wenger sorts out the players' bibs during training at London Colney (Getty)
In spite of the good run at the end of last season following the victory over Bayern Munich in Germany in March, it was very different on the first day of this season and that defeat at home to Aston Villa. Reflecting on that yesterday, Wenger said his relationship with the fans was important but so too was his wider belief that he could entertain a wider audience.

“I want to make our fans happy but, as well, make people who love football [enjoy watching Arsenal],” he said. “It is as simple as that. In a world where you are spoiled for choice, it is important that when you wake up you think ‘Oh, Arsenal play today, I will [watch]’. That you have a hope to see something that is good, a moment when you are happy in your life. That’s all. It is not more complicated than that.”

As for his young team, these are early days. A win tonight would put them in an extremely strong position to qualify out of what Wenger identifies as the strongest group in the Champions League. It would also be a pretty impressive statement. The start of November presents some tough tests for Arsenal, and then in the run-up to Christmas they play Napoli and Manchester City away and Chelsea at home. By then everyone will have a measure of how good this team is.

“It depends on what they achieve,” Wenger said in answer to a question about the quality of this team. “You want people to look back and say ‘that was a fantastic season’ but that will be decided in May. Before that, let’s experience some quality.” It sounded like a man whose priority is to win some trophies and hopefully play some good football along the way. He might yet get both.

* Group F: Remaining fixtures

Tonight Arsenal v Borussia Dortmund, Marseilles v Napoli. 6 Nov Borussia Dortmund v Arsenal, Napoli v Marseilles. 26 Nov Arsenal v Marseilles, Borussia Dortmund v Napoli. 11 Dec Marseilles v Borussia Dortmund, Napoli v Arsenal.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor