Now that Arsene has finally departed we can look at his complete record against the complete records of all his predecessors as Arsenal manager. I first posted this table about four years ago, then again earlier this year – but at the time we didn’t know Arsene was heading towards the exit. As well as updating Arsene Wenger’s stats to the present, the version from March also had changes to some early records, thanks to research by Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews, who do a fantastic job over at thearsenalhistory.com.
Because Arsenal have gone downhill in the last two seasons, at least in terms of league position and points won, I’ve put extra lines to separate this time and compare it against Arsene’s reign as a whole. I’ve done it as individual seasons and the last two years combined, and to be honest there is not a huge difference when compared to his overall record. Goals per game and goals conceded have both gone up, which rather flies in the face of claims (including from me) of boring football lately. Win percentage in 2016-17 was higher than average, but lower in 2017-18, leaving the two-year average very close to the overall Wenger reign figure.
So how does Arsene compare to others? He has of course won more trophies than anyone else, but then he was there by far the longest. However, his win percentage is also the best of the long-term managers in Arsenal’s history – beaten only by Joe Shaw, who did half a season with Herbert Chapman’s team after the death of the great man, and Pat Rice, who won three out of four immediately prior to Arsene’s arrival.
But I would argue it’s easier to maintain a good win percentage when you’re a member of a small group of mega-rich clubs that have been dominating the league for the last 15 years. It would be a poor Arsenal manager who couldn’t average a top five or six finish with a budget and wage bill far in excess of even Spurs, never mind the 14 clubs considerably poorer than them.
Slightly surprisingly, Arsene’s overall win percentage has gone up slightly since 2013. Perhaps this is because of recent success in the FA Cup – obviously the further you go in a cup, the more wins you get; but you can only have a maximum of one loss per cup per season.
Anyway, feel free to work out your own theories.
If you want to interrogate the rest of the table, bear in mind the following:
- I have converted the length of time as manager into a decimal format for the purpose of calculations; there is slight rounding, but this shouldn’t affect comparisons.
- In the early decades Arsenal played in several other competitions such as the United League and the London FA Challenge Cup; those competitions are not included in the stats. I have stuck to competitions now regarded as ‘major’.
- George Allison and James McEwan managed during the world wars, so the number of football seasons is not the same as calendar years.
- McEwen was manager for the last two matches before football was abandoned for WW1. They were his only non-wartime matches in charge.
- Often the number of trophies available is fewer than you might expect, because a new manager can’t always enter every competition in his first season – for example, if his predecessor didn’t qualify for Europe. Arsenal first entered the FA Cup in 1889-90 and were not in the Football League until 1893.
- For several early managers, I have put major trophies available as zero, as their predecessor would not have left them in a position to win anything during the time they had in charge. For example, taking over with Arsenal in the Second Division means no immediate chance of winning a League title. In practice this makes no difference in most cases, as Arsenal’s first major trophy wasn’t till 1930 anyway! You could argue a new manager might also be affected by his predecessor leaving a very weak team, so realistically he might be unlikely to win the league first time even if given a full top division season. Conversely, you could argue the likes of Joe Shaw and George Allison could barely lose in their first seasons, given the bang up job Herb had done before them. In a sense, Arsène Wenger disadvantaged himself by always qualifying for Europe – if he didn’t, he’d have fewer trophies to go for. There’s no perfect method of measuring everything, I’ve just tried to do it fairly and consistently.
- Arsenal didn’t enter the League Cup until 1966-67 when it became compulsory, so Swindin and Wright had only the League and FA Cup to aim for.
- Arsène Wenger’s win total doesn’t include penalty shoot out victories. These are counted as draws here (and Fifa records results in the same way), and can lead to anomalies otherwise. For example, Arsenal lost the second leg match of the 1993-94 Cup Winners’ Cup Semi-Final, but won the tie on penalties – that can’t be counted as both a defeat and a win! The disadvantage for Arsène is a slightly reduced win rate; the advantage is a slightly reduced loss rate!