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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss