The longevity of Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal is such that Simon Grayson still had a sizeable chunk of his playing career left when the Frenchman first landed with the Gunners.
Preston boss Grayson was with Leicester City when Wenger was appointed in 1996 and played several times against Arsenal for the Foxes and Aston Villa.
Wenger, 67, is the longest-serving manager in the English professional game, having almost 10 years on Exeter’s Paul Tisdale who is in second.
On February 18, Grayson will have been in charge of North End for four years. The fact he is the 11th longest-serving boss, shows that management is not high on the list when it comes to job security.
On Saturday, they will be in the Deepdale technical area when North End tackle Arsenal in the FA Cup.
“I’m coming up four years in charge here which might not be in the same league as Arsene, but just shows how many clubs have changed their manager,” said Grayson.
“For Arsene to be have been in charge 20 years is a remarkable situation. That shows how closely the people above have worked with him.
“They moved from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium and have transformed the club in that time.
“I was still playing when Arsene first came over here – I played against his Arsenal side a few times.
“He has been very good for English football, brought in a lot of different ideas over the way they play.
“Some of the criticism he gets at times is slightly unfair.
“Everyone is judged by results and winning trophies at the top level but what he has done for football in this country is exceptional – second to none.”
Grayson and Wenger have been in opposition three times before as managers. All three meetings were in the FA Cup when Grayson was Leeds boss. Six years ago, Arsenal needed a 90th-minute penalty to earn a replay – the Gunners winning the second game.
Then in 2012, Wenger’s boys won 1-0 against Leeds at the third round stage.
Said Grayson: “As a player I’ve not got too many FA Cup memories, to be fair – okay, if not spectacular.
“Leeds won at Manchester United when I was manager.
“They beat Tottenham down at their place, while there was the draw at Arsenal when they got a late penalty.
“A couple of years ago, we had Manchester United here and ran them close.”
Grayson has tried to keep North End’s preparations as normal as possible for the cup clash.
After two games in three days against Sheffield Wednesday and Burton, the squad were given Tuesday and Wednesday off.
They were back on the Springfields training pitches on Thursday morning to begin planning for 12-time winners Arsenal.
Said Grayson: “We got the media stuff out of the way a bit earlier so that the players can concentrate on the game.
“Our build-up will be the same as it is for a Championship game.
“We will do some work on Arsenal, although it will be hard to work out what side they will put out.
“I can try and have a guess at what the team will be but they’ve got so much depth to their squad. They have had a lot of games in a short space of time, like all of us have.
“At the top end of the tree, they complain a little bit more about that.
“I think it will be a fine balance for Arsene, between him wanting to field a strong team against us but not wanting to run the risk of key players picking up injuries for the league games ahead.
“Obviously, being in the Premier League title race is their main priority.”