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The stages of Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal

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Initially there was intrigue. Then there was admiration. Next came pity, followed by anger and protest.

It has been a roller-coaster of emotions during the 21-year tenure of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, which will continue after the Frenchman signed a contract extension for two more years on Wednesday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

A look at the various stages of Wenger’s reign:

“Arsene Who?” read the headline across a London newspaper when Wenger, a wiry, bespectacled and relatively unknown French coach was hired by Arsenal in September 1996.

Within two years, it was clear the club had pulled off a coup.

That’s all it took for Wenger to turn Arsenal around – its players’ drinking culture, their dietary habits and the team’s style of play – and lead the club to a Premier League-FA Cup double in 1998 at the end of his first full season in charge. He was the first foreign-born manager to achieve the double.

Helped by his knowledge of the French league, Wenger quickly began constructing a formidable side: Patrick Vieira had already joined in the months before Wenger’s arrival; Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Nicolas Anelka joined ahead of the 1998-99 season; Thierry Henry replaced Anelka in 1999. By 2001, he was building the team that would become known as the “Invincibles” – one that went through the 2003-04 league season unbeaten.

Arsenal recovered from losing the UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray in 2000 and the FA Cup final to Liverpool in 2001 by winning another league-cup double in 2002.

The “Invincibles” season would define his reign, with Arsenal winning 26 games and drawing the other 12 as the likes of Henry, Vieira, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and Sol Campbell excelled. Wenger’s swashbuckling, slick side was awarded a special gold version of the league trophy in recognition.

[ MORE: Two more years — Wenger signs new contract ]

Arsenal then won the FA Cup in 2005 after a penalty shootout against Manchester United. Few could have imagined that would be the club’s last major trophy for nine years.

Although Arsenal reached the Champions League final the following season, losing to Barcelona after taking an early lead in Paris, a fourth-place finish in the league – the first time Wenger had finished outside the top two in a full season – was a sign of things to come.

Arsenal left its Highbury home of 93 years and relocated to nearby Emirates Stadium in 2006. Suddenly the priority was financing the new 60,000-seat stadium over strengthening the playing squad.

Vieira had already left in 2005, Henry and David Dein – who was both the vice chairman and a trusted ally of Wenger in the boardroom – departed in 2007, and Arsenal veered toward bringing through youth players and cheaper signings.

There was a gradual loss of leadership at the club, on and off the field, and it began to show in results.

Between 2007-13, Arsenal finished either third or fourth in the Premier League and rarely had a shot at the title. The team blew a five-point lead in February in the 2007-08 season and imploded in the last months of the 2010-11 season when in contention for four trophies, including losing to Birmingham in the English League Cup final.

Wenger couldn’t afford to keep hold of his star players. In 2011, Cesc Fabregas was sold to Barcelona, and Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy joined Manchester City. Top scorer Robin Van Persie moved to Manchester United in 2012, leading his new team to the league title the following season.

[ MORE: Huddersfield win promotion, complete 2017-18 PL field ]

Aspirations lowered at the Emirates. By 2012 and with Arsenal struggling to win titles, Wenger was saying that finishing in the top four – and therefore qualifying for the Champions League – was comparable to winning a trophy.

By 2013, Arsenal’s title drought extended to eight years and Wenger would soon be labeled a “specialist in failure” by managerial rival Jose Mourinho. Fueled by cash from their Russian and Abu Dhabi owners, Chelsea and Manchester City had sprinted past Arsenal and changed the financial landscape of the Premier League – much to the chagrin of the more conservative Wenger.

“I accept one basic principle for every company,” Wenger said, “that you can spend the money you make.”

No longer hamstrung by stadium debts, Wenger could finally start spending again. Off came the financial straitjacket and in came two stars of the Spanish league, playmaker Mesut Ozil for a club-record 42.4 million pounds (then $66 million) in 2013 and forward Alexis Sanchez for 35 million pounds (then $60 million) in 2014.

Arsenal continued to secure Champions League qualification each season and the team ended its wait for a trophy by winning the FA Cup in 2014 – but only after a penalty-shootout win over second-tier club Wigan in the semifinals and the need for extra time to beat Hull 3-2 in the final. There were reports that Wenger might have quit if Arsenal had lost the final; instead he signed a new three-year deal.

[ MORE: Slaven Bilic confirms he’ll return to West Ham next season ]

By now, though, there was a small but loud contingent of fans that was growing tired with Wenger. The embarrassing losses started to build up, including in the 2013-14 season a 5-1 loss at Liverpool and 6-0 loss at Chelsea in his 1,000th match in charge of Arsenal.

Arsenal retained the FA Cup in 2015, taking Wenger’s haul of titles in that competition to six, but it couldn’t hide the team’s failure to challenge for the Premier League or Champions League. Arsenal’s limitations in the Champions League were particularly galling, with Wenger unable to lead his side beyond the last 16 from 2011-17.

Wenger acknowledged that he missed a great chance to win a first Premier League title since 2004 when Arsenal finished second behind surprise champion Leicester in the 2015-16 season.

Fan unrest was at its worst the following season as the Gunners slipped from league contention by February and were routed 10-2 on aggregate by Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Arsenal ended up finishing fifth in the Premier League and missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time in a full season under Wenger, although a strong finish to the campaign saw the team beat Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final. It was a record seventh FA Cup triumph for Wenger, and – following a board meeting three days later – he signed up for two more years.

PL Sunday preview: Wayward Watford welcome woeful West Ham

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In a reversal of roles, based on preseason projections at least, Watford welcome West Ham United to Vicarage Road on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) for a clash of mid-table climbers and relegation fighters, respectively.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Man Utd, Chelsea win big… so do Man City ]

Watford began the 2017-18 Premier League season in fine form, winning four of their first eight games and losing just one (to runaway leaders Manchester City, no less). In their last three games, however, the Hornets have conceded eight goals, while scoring just four themselves, and winning zero points. Coincidentally — nor not, perhaps — that three-game slide began at the same time Watford manager Marco Silva‘s name was linked with the vacant manager’s job at Everton. With Ronald Koeman fired almost four weeks ago now, Watford have rejected approach after approach from Everton owner Farhad Moshiri. Silva, for his first three months of efforts, has been roundly praised by the club’s supporters and players alike.

“Everybody could see he changed a lot of things in the team. We had quite a lot of the same players but we improved a lot,” defender Christian Kabasele said this week. “When you have somebody like this and other teams are looking for him it’s important that Watford try to do everything possible to keep him.”

West Ham, meanwhile, started the season poorly and have remained equally so in recent weeks. Slaven Bilic was subsequently fired two weeks and succeeded by David Moyes, who had been out of a job since guiding Sunderland to relegation at the end of last season. Sunday’s bout with Watford will see Moyes make his debut for West Ham, the fourth club to employ him since leaving Everton four and a half years ago. To make matters more difficult, the Hammers’ leading scorer, Javier Hernandez (4 goals), won’t be available after picking up an injury on international duty.

“It’s a clean slate for the entire squad,” Moyes said last week. “They’ve all worked very hard this week and responded in a positive manner to everything we’ve asked of them. It will obviously take time for the players to fully understand our style and methods but the initial signs are very encouraging — they’ve bought in what we are trying to do and that’s a good base for us to build on.”

INJURIES: Watford — OUT: Troy Deeney (suspension), Nathaniel Chalobah (knee), Isaac Success (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Sebastian Prodl (hamstring), Roberto Pereyra (hamstring) | West Ham — OUT: Javier Hernandez (hamstring), James Collins (ankle), Sam Byram (thigh), Jose Fonte (foot); QUESTIONABLE: Michail Antonio (ribs)

The 2 Robbies: North London Painted Red

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In today’s pod, the Robbies heap praise on Arsenal’s impressive performance in the North London Derby (00:30), analyze Manchester United’s 4-1 win against Newcastle on the back of Paul Pogba’s return (10:00), ask if this Man City side is the best Premier League side ever (18:25), debate where Kevin De Bruyne’s current form ranks in the league’s greatest ever players (23:45) and pick the best summer signing so far this season (27:15; hint, hint – he might be leading the league in scoring).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga: Draw in Madrid derby puts Barca 10 clear of capital rivals

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid played to a scoreless draw in their first derby at the new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Saturday, leaving both teams further away from Spanish league leader Barcelona.

Barcelona won at Leganes 3-0 earlier and ended the day 10 points in front of both Madrid clubs after 12 matches. The thriving Catalan club is seven points in front of second-place Valencia, which will try to extend its seven-game winning streak at Espanyol on Sunday.

The draw extended Atletico’s winless run at its new home to five matches. It drew three straight entering this weekend. Diego Simeone’s team has won only two of its last 10 games in all competitions.

Both teams will have to remain nearly perfect for the rest of the season to try to catch up to Barcelona, which has won 11 of its 12 league matches.

It was a tense between Real and Atletico from the start, with hard fouls from both sides.

Real had control for most of the game but was not able to create many significant chances.

Atletico had one of its best opportunities early when forward Angel Correa entered the area free from markers with only goalkeeper Kiko Casilla to beat but sent his shot wide.

Substitute Kevin Gameiro also came close in the second half, but his shot over Casilla was cleared by Real defender Raphael Varane in front of the goal-line.

Real threatened with a few runs by Isco and a couple of free kicks taken by Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was another tough night for Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann. Ronaldo has scored six times in the Champions league but only once in La Liga, while Griezmann has only three goals in 14 matches with Atletico in all competitions. The France forward was jeered when he was replaced by Fernando Torres near the end of the second half.

Luis Suarez scored twice to end a five-match scoring drought in Barcelona’s win.

The Uruguay striker found the net in each half and substitute midfielder Paulinho scored late to give the Catalan club its 11th win.

Leganes, ninth in the standings, had its chances early in southern Madrid but couldn’t beat Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Suarez opened the scoring in the 28th after Leganes goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar dropped the ball in front of the goal after a cross by Paco Alcacer. Suarez’s second in the 60th was a rebound shot after Cuellar parried a shot by Lionel Messi. Suarez hadn’t scored in more than a month.

“What mattered to me was that I was feeling good and was helping the team, and today the goals helped us get the three points against a difficult rival,” Suarez said. “We always try to play better, but it’s not always possible.”

Paulinho sealed the victory in the 90th after a pass by Messi, who was on the ground fighting for the ball when he tipped it back to the midfielder.

Leganes, playing only in its second season in the first division, wore a specially designed purple shirt to promote the fight against gender violence.

“We had our opportunities, but in the end we knew that we were playing against the best team in the world, and with very little they can score on you,” Leganes midfielder Ruben Perez said.

Sevilla recovered from its loss to Barcelona in the previous round by beating Celta Vigo 2-1 to move back to fifth place.

Celta got on the board first through Maxi Gomez, but the hosts rallied with goals by Luis Muriel in the first half and Nolito in the second.

It was the fourth win in five matches for Sevilla in all competitions.

Markel Bergara and Jorge Molina scored in the first 10 minutes to lead Getafe to a comfortable 4-1 win over Alaves at home.

It was the 10th league loss for Alaves, which remains in 18th place. Getafe is 10th.

“Our performance was embarrassing,” Alaves coach Gianni De Biasi said.

Bundesliga: Bayern running away (again) after slow start

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BERLIN (AP) Robert Lewandowski scored twice to help Bayern Munich stretch its lead in the Bundesliga to six points with a 3-0 defeat of Bavarian rival Augsburg on Saturday.

It was the 500th league win for Jupp Heynckes as a player or coach and extends the 72-year-old’s winning start to eight games across all competitions since he returned for his fourth stint.

“That’s a surprise for me. I don’t bother with statistics and numbers,” Heynckes said on being told about his winning landmark. “But it’s an impressive number (500). I had a long career as a player, and now as a coach. It wasn’t planned.”

Heynckes was coaxed out of retirement to take over from the fired Carlo Ancelotti on Oct. 5. Bayern was trailing then-leader Borussia Dortmund by five points at the time. Now the side is nine points ahead of Dortmund, which hasn’t won in the league since Sept. 30, and six ahead of Leipzig, held to a draw at Bayer Leverkusen.

Bayern midfielder Arturo Vidal broke the deadlock after half an hour, swiveling to fire home the rebound from a difficult angle after Mats Hummels’s effort was blocked and the ball ricocheted off Niklas Suele.

Vidal turned provider seven minutes later, playing Lewandowski through on a counterattack to shoot past Marwin Hitz.

The Poland striker claimed his league-leading 13th goal of the season early in the second half with a perfectly struck volley to Joshua Kimmich’s precise long cross from the right.

Vidal headed against the crossbar just afterward before Bayern conserved energy for Wednesday’s Champions League game at Anderlecht.

The win stretched the side’s unbeaten record to 28 games at home.

Winless Cologne’s terrible start to the league continued with its 10th defeat in 12 games, while the discussion over video assistance in the league will continue after two mistakes by referee Felix Brych.

Daniel Brosinski’s penalty before the break was enough for a 1-0 win for Mainz against Cologne, but how it came about will ensure the controversy over video assistance goes on.

Brych pointed to the spot when Pablo De Blasis fell under Frederik Sorensen’s challenge. He then consulted the video assistant, who had the benefit of studying replays in Cologne, and stood by the decision – despite television showing that Sorensen made hardly any contact with the Mainz player.

Brych later sent off Mainz’s Giulio Donati for what he perceived as striking Leon Bittencourt after a tussle between the two. However, Bittencourt’s foot struck Donati in the face beforehand. Donati, who was lying on the pitch clutching his face, brushed the Cologne player away when he went to lift him up.

Following controversial decisions in previous games, the German soccer federation said video assistants were only to step in when there was “a clear wrong decision.”

Ten-man Leverkusen came from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw at home against second-place Leipzig.

Timo Werner’s early penalty put the visitors in front before Leon Bailey equalized before the break.

The home side’s hopes took a blow when Benjamin Henrichs was sent off for handball on the line and Emil Forsberg scored the resulting penalty, but Kevin Volland equalized again with a quarter-hour remaining.

Wolfsburg defeated Freiburg 3-1 at home to give coach Martin Schmidt his first win after he started with seven draws.

On loan from Bayern, Serge Gnabry did brilliantly to set up Mark Uth for Hoffenheim’s injury-time equalizer in a 1-1 draw with visiting Eintracht Frankfurt.