Arsène Wenger’s first Premier League winning team was a mixture of drunk Englishmen and French smokers, according to Ray Parlour.
A number of Arsenal players spoke to the Mirror about that first title-winning season, and it’s a long way from the current team and the strict requirements of today.
Parlour talked about their first pre-season tour with Wenger: “I’ll always remember the moment Steve Bould went up to the bar and ordered 35 pints for five of us. After we left the bar we spotted all the French lads in the coffee shop and they were sitting around smoking.
“I thought: ‘How are we going to win the league this year? We’re all drunk and they’re all smoking’. We ended up winning the double that year.”
With the way that Wojciech Szczesny was dropped, fined and eventually sold when he lit up a cigarette after a game against Southampton, you can’t imagine Arsène tolerating finding out about the French players sitting around a coffee shop smoking in 2017.
In fairness, back then there weren’t as many people with camera phones around waiting to share pictures of anything untoward on social media. So perhaps Wenger just never found out. Maybe he did, and just didn’t want to mess with a combination that was working so well, as Nigel Winterburn told the Mirror: “In my time at Arsenal, the 98 team was the best team I played in.
“Luckily enough, the players we had and the players he (Wenger) brought in seemed to complement each other terrifically well and obviously that came to fruition very, very quickly with the 1998 Double team.”
Many fans believe Arsenal could do with another team that mixes no-nonsense defence and creative attacking players, but the Gunners have never quite got back to those days, preferring ball playing options all over the pitch.
For me, there’s no denying that when it works, it’s brilliant to watch, and when it doesn’t, it’s a mess.
But that’s the risk Wenger is consistently willing to take.