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‘Wenger and I enjoyed some fantastic battles’

- Can’t believe Saturday’s match will be my 1000th, says Wenger
Arsene Wenger with the 2002-03 EPL trophy

London: Alex Ferguson has written a personal tribute to Arsene Wenger ahead of his 1,000th match as Arsenal manager. Frenchman Wenger was appointed in 1996 by the club and reaches his milestone against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Arsenal made a commemorative presentation to Wenger at training this morning, attended by chairman Sir Chips Keswick and League Managers Association Chairman Richard Bevan. At the event Wenger was given a written tribute from former Manchester United boss Ferguson.

“I congratulate Arsene in reaching this momentous landmark,” Ferguson said. “Having also reached the same milestone at one club, I cannot emphasise enough the level of dedication, resilience as well as sacrifice required and for that I have for the utmost admiration.

“Over the years we enjoyed some fantastic battles and you could say we had survived together and respected each other’s efforts to play good football. I always enjoy watching Arsene’s sides — Arsenal play the right way.

“Playing against them always presented special challenges that I burned many hours over the years thinking about. He has always been a conscientious member of our trade who makes it his business to help other managers.

“Perhaps the biggest compliment I could give Arsene is that I could never be anything other than competitive with my rival for 17 years.”

Ferguson was in charge of United for 1,498 games before retiring last summer and was one of Wenger’s biggest rivals.

The relationship between the pair thawed over recent years and Ferguson even personally called Wenger to conclude the Robin van Persie transfer in 2012. In his 999 matches so far, Wenger has won 572, drawn 235 and lost 192, but has never beaten manager Jose Mourinho, who is yet to lose a league match at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea.

Ahead of his 1,000th game, Wenger said: “It makes you feel ‘where did the time go?’. It looks to me like I started yesterday, I can’t believe Saturday’s match will be my 1,000th as Arsenal manager.

“Why? Because you’re always focused on looking forward to the next game and when you look back you think ‘I made quite a distance there’.

“Despite that, your only interest is the next game, our drug is the next game, the hope for the next game, the desire to win the next one. You go step by step and finally when you look back it’s a long time.

“I would just like to say for me it’s an honour to manage a club of this dimension for such a long time and I would like to thank everybody who is involved in the club for giving me such a confidence for such a long time.”

Wenger is still to sign a contract extension but spoke of leading the club into a new era on Friday.

“We have great players so I’m confident we can win trophies. “I’m extremely motivated to stay for as long as possible but I accept that the next thousand (games) will be difficult.

“The next period for us is to deliver trophies and competing with everyone at the top level,” Wenger said, who has kept Arsenal in the title fight this season despite injuries to the likes of Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey, said.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho took another sly dig at Wenger, on Friday, while expressing admiration for a rival he dubbed a “specialist in failure” only a month ago.

Mourinho said he would like to emulate Wenger’s longevity. “I admire him and I admire Arsenal,” the Portuguese told reporters.

Mourinho being Mourinho, he could not resist a sting in the tail to the praise for a manager whose side have not won a trophy since 2005.

“It is not possible to have 1,000 matches unless the club is also a fantastic club in the way they support their manager, especially in the bad moments and especially when the bad moments were quite a lot,” he said.

“The tribute is to say that I believe any one of us (managers) would love to have the same privilege with our clubs. Could I stay for 1,000 games? I would like to, but it’s very difficult.

“It’s even more difficult in modern football. If I can reach 500 with Chelsea it would be fantastic.”