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.

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions