'It gets better and better, to be part of this squad is brilliant'

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger, calmness personified after Arsenal had completed their second Double in four years, reflected on "a shift in power'' from Old Trafford to Highbury. He neglected to add the word "seismic''.

Arsenal not only clinched the championship at the home of Manchester United, but they did so with a deserved victory over the club who had won the title three seasons running. Wenger, who has been virtually unique in the Premiership in refusing to be psyched out by Sir Alex Ferguson's asides, took great pleasure in calmly reeling off his side's achievements.

"Our record has been tremendous,'' the Arsenal manager said. We have not lost away from home all season and we have scored in every single game. Tonight, we were solid as a rock during the first half when they put us under some pressure, and in the second we were even better.

"We wanted there to be a shift in power by taking the Premier League trophy back home to London, so that we would be able just to enjoy the last game against Everton on Saturday. And, by a shift, I mean that we want to win it again next year.''

The turning point in Arsenal's campaign, according to the phlegmatic Frenchman, came in December when they won at Liverpool despite having Giovanni van Bronckhorst sent off. "It was a backs-to-the-wall performance after we had just lost at home to Newcastle,'' Wenger said. "From that moment on, I was convinced we would win the title.''

Pressed to compare this twin triumph in the league and FA Cup with the one to which he led Arsenal in his first full season, 1997-98, Wenger added: "What we have done this season is stronger, because we beat big clubs in the Cup. It's just fantastic, especially to do it here because United are the team you want to beat.''

Patrick Vieira, captain for the night in place of the injured Tony Adams, refused to confirm that he would be staying with Arsenal following reports linking him to a £24m move to Real Madrid. "Just let me enjoy the night,'' he told his interrogators. "This win showed our spirit. We worked really hard for each other.''

Lee Dixon, a veteran of past title successes, said after making a late appearance as substitute: "It just gets better and better. It won't be too long before I hang up my boots, but to be part of this squad is brilliant. Tonight typified our season. We needed a point but we didn't just go out for one.''

Ferguson, who took slender consolation from the news that David Beckham is close to signing a new contract, was grudgingly gracious in defeat: "Arsenal have won their last 12 matches. They're worthy champions, without question."

He admitted it was "a big worry'' that United might now have to pre-qualify for next season's Champions' League. "We have to beat Charlton and hope for Ipswich to do us a favour against Liverpool,'' the United manager said.

"It's been a very disappointing season, but when you lose six games at home you don't deserve to win the league. It's 12 years since we lost so many home games. We'll change that. Maybe we'll make some changes, though with players like Roy Keane there is always something to look forward to.''


Founded:1886, turned professional 1891.

Previous names: 1886 Dial Square; 1886-91 Royal Arsenal; 1891-1914 Woolwich Arsenal; 1914- Arsenal.

Nickname: The Gunners.

Ground: Highbury (capacity 38,500). Moved to Highbury from south London in 1913. Relocating to 60,000-seat stadium at Ashburton Grove for the 2004-05 season.

Manager: Arsène Wenger (appointed in September 1996 from the J-League club Nagoya Grampus Eight).

Record attendance: 73,295 v Sunderland, First Division, 9 March 1935.

Honours: Double winners (three times): 1971, 1998, 2002.

League Champions (12 times): 1931, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1938, 1948, 1953, 1971, 1989, 1991, 1998, 2002.

FA Cup (eight times): 1930, 1936, 1950, 1971, 1979, 1993, 1998, 2002.

League Cup (twice): 1987, 1993.

Inter-Cities Fairs Cup: 1970.

European Cup-Winners' Cup: 1994.