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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Ferguson leads tributes for Wenger

Sir Alex Ferguson has led the tributes pouring in for Arsene Wenger as he prepares for his 1,000th game in charge of Arsenal.

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Wenger takes his team to Chelsea on Saturday in what will be a crucial Premier League clash, with the Gunners able to close the gap on the league leaders to one point, while they will still have a game in hand.

The Frenchman, who arrived at Arsenal in 1996, will become one of only four men in the modern era of English football, including Sir Matt Busby, Ferguson and Dario Gradi to surpass the 1,000 game landmark at one club.

And Ferguson, who enjoyed a long-standing rivalry with Wenger during his days as Manchester United manager, believes he has been a credit to the game.

“I congratulate Arsene in reaching this momentous landmark,” he said in a League Managers Association statement. “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.

“Overall this achievement once again shows what stability can bring to a football club and without doubt he has created a permanent legacy during his 1000 matches with the club.”

During his time at Arsenal, Wenger has earned a reputation for his shrewd transfer dealings, bringing in the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Patrick Vieira and Cesc Fabregas for next to nothing before selling them on for vast profits.

Arguably his greatest ever signing, though, was bringing in Thierry Henry from Juventus in 1999, and turning him from a winger into a striker that would go on to become the club’s all-time record goal scorer.

And Henry, who returned to Arsenal for a second spell on loan in 2012, has also moved to hail a manager he saw as a “father figure.”

"I want to wish Arsene many congratulations on this incredible achievement. I have had the privilege and honour to play under him for many years at both Monaco and Arsenal,” Henry told Sky Sports.

"To reach 1000 games for one club is a historic achievement, but not a surprising one. He is one of the very best managers in the modern game.

"I have been fortunate to play for some extremely gifted coaches. I had Pep [Guardiola] at Barcelona and he has proved he is the best at the moment but Arsene is more than just a great manager to me because he was a father figure and a mentor.

"I will never forget his advice and guidance over the years and without him I wouldn't have achieved half the milestones in my career. He deserves all the accolades as he has had a huge impact on Arsenal Football Club and the lives of many players. Long may it continue.”

Vieira, the captain of Wenger’s “Invincibles” side that went the whole Premier League season unbeaten in 2003-04, said in the Daily Mail of his former boss: “What was quite really impressive with Arsene is that I would go in his office really upset, really frustrated, wanting to make a point.

“I knew that I was right, so my ideas were clear about what I wanted to tell him. I would go into his office but when I came back out, it was always him who was right! He was really good at trying to change your mind and he did it in a calm, laid-back way.”

Fabregas, another of Wenger’s former captains, also had some kind words to say about the man who first brought him to England from Barcelona.

“I just want to say congratulations," he said in the Daily Mail. “You made such a big impact on so many players’ careers, especially on mine. I owe you everything.”

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal's record signing, took to his official Facebook page to thank Wenger for bringing him to the club. 

He wrote: “On Saturday the boss will celebrate his 1000th game at Arsenal. What a number. We couldn't imagine the Gunners without him. It was him who brought me to London. Thank you for your trust! #Wenger1000”

Despite having been at Arsenal for nearly 18 years, Wenger is reportedly set to sign a new contract at the club, with his current deal due to expire at the end of the season.

And former Gunners chairman Peter Hill-Wood believes the Frenchman still has the hunger to go on for far longer and build a new era of success at the club before he does finally decide to call it a day.

“He doesn’t think his job is finished yet,” Hill-Wood said in the Daily Telegraph. “I don’t think his enthusiasm has diminished at all. I don’t see him suddenly deserting and starting again at some other club.”

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini also paid tribute to Wenger during his news conference on Friday.

“It is not easy, 1000 games in the same club. He is a special manager,” he said. “Arsene Wenger has had a wonderful career at Arsenal so congratulations."

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