Record-breaker Wenger still has European ambition

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger has just about done and seen it all during his 13 seasons at Arsenal. He may well have even bought the "In Arsene We Trust" T-shirt. However, one thing still does not sit right.

A lot of humble pie has been eaten since the famous headline "Arsene Who?" greeted the appointment of the then-unheralded French coach at Highbury during the autumn of 1996.

Now, of course, Wenger - who today becomes the longest-serving manager in Arsenal history - is lauded as one of the best football brains on the planet.

'The Professor', who holds a Masters' Degree in Economics from Strasbourg University, has secured three Premier League titles - including the famous Invincibles campaign of 2003/2004 - along with the FA Cup four times and an appearance in the Champions League final three years ago.

However, it was the failure of his young side to rise to the challenge against Manchester United in last season's European Cup semi-final which continues to rest uneasy on Wenger's conscience.

Completely outplayed at Old Trafford, yet somehow still in the tie being only 1-0 down, Arsenal opened up all guns blazing in the second leg, only for an untimely slip by rookie full-back Kieran Gibbs to prove so costly as United grabbed a crucial early away goal and went on to Rome.

Wenger recalled: "Losing the semi-final of the Champions League to Manchester United last year was the lowest point, because we did not play at our level.

"We have got a young team, which has an average age of 22 or 23, and one which is maturing - even if it can make mistakes like in semi-final of the Champions League.

"What is very disappointing for us, however, is in the games that mattered in the last three or four weeks we could not win.

"That is where we have to analyse."

Wenger, whose side also lost out in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, to Chelsea at Wembley, added: "At the end of the day, we tried very hard to get the best out of the team.

"If it is not good enough, it is not good enough, we can accept that - but trust me, there was no fault of commitment on our side.

"We will naturally progress if we keep going."

While many other men who were about to turn 60 may well be contemplating a well-earned retirement, Wenger has no intentions of hanging up his manager's overcoat just yet.

"I have never had a day when I think I could live without football," said the former Monaco coach.

"I know one day it will happen, but you should not live every day knowing you are going to die - you live knowing that you want to live.

"You will know if you are not hungry enough any more, but other people will tell you if you are not good enough any more."

Wenger's legacy at the Emirates Stadium is already secure, with a bronze bust of the Frenchman now in pride of place alongside fellow Arsenal legend Herbert Chapman at the impressive 60,000-seater stadium, into which he had so much influence.

Indeed a fitting venue for his unique brand of passing football, which has written its own chapter in footballing folklore.

"The highest point was to play a whole season unbeaten. No matter how much money anybody else has invested, nobody else has done that," Wenger reflected.

It is, though, the continued progress and development of his players - moulding world-class stars rather than simply just buying them - which perhaps serves as the most fitting tribute.

Thierry Henry was turned from an out-of-sorts winger at Juventus into arguably the greatest player of his generation while at Highbury, and it was also Wenger who plucked Emmanuel Adebayor from relative obscurity at Monaco to help turn the Togo international into one of the most-sought after strikers in Europe.

Current captain Cesc Fabregas is a case in point.

The midfielder arrived at Arsenal as a 16-year-old from the Barcelona youth set up and is now their most prized asset - one which the Catalan giants would love to have back.

A strong sense of loyalty, though, continues to keep the likes of Fabregas and Robin van Persie, last season's scorer who arrived as a raw talent from Feyenoord in May 2004, committed to Wenger's cause.

"He has been the most important influence in my short career," Fabregas declared.

"He took me here, made me train with the first-team when I was 16 years old - I was training alongside Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira so I was lucky to learn from the big players.

"For me it was a very big step forward.

"The manager took the risk to put me in the team.

"I have to thank him for that and now I have to pay him back for what he has done for me."

Getting his hands on a long-overdue trophy in 2010 would certainly be a start.

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