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222/22: The Wenger Years – 1996 to 1998

Arsène Wenger at Arsenal 1996 to 1998
The Wenger Years 1996-98

13th May 2018. A 1-0 win at Huddersfield brings Arsene Wenger’s 22-year affair with Arsenal FC to an end.

From newspaper headlines that read “Arsene Who?” in his first season to Twitter hashtags reading #WengerOut towards the end of his tenure, the Frenchman had taken Arsenal FC to new heights. His ideas effectively changed the landscape of English football forever.

Of course, he needed the players to fulfill his ambitions. After inheriting a team that was a reminiscence of the George Graham era, Wenger signed and nurtured unpolished gems into superstars at the start of his reign.

From the heavy drinkers of the Tuesday Club, world beaters, ball-playing technicians, bargain-basement transfer deals, and some absolute duds.

This is the first part of a six-part series chronicling the list of 222 players who have played under Arsene Wenger’s 22 years at Arsenal.

PART ONE: The Back Four and 97/98 domestic double.

1. David Seaman
Seaman was a key member of the George Graham era, which transitioned into the Wenger years. Three league titles and four FA Cups is a testimonial for the player who owned the No. 1 jersey for 13 seasons at Arsenal.

Post-retirement Seaman swapped his boots with ice skates in 2014, when he was seen shaking a leg on the TV show “Dancing on Ice” with his current wife Frankie. Guess, we can say she was a keeper.

Of course, we have to mention this save against Sheffield United, which has gone down in the Gunners folklore.

2. Lee Dixon
The right-back in the famous back four of Arsenal. He spent 14 years at the club before retiring in 2002 with his mate and captain, Tony Adams. 

Although he regularly appears on television as a knowledgeable football pundit, Dixon also made a mark in the culinary world when he bashed his friend and celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal on the head with a toilet brush.

A solid defender, Dixon bagged a few goals for the club, but none as famous as this banger of an own goal.

3. Tony Adams
Since signing up with his boyhood club, Adams was associated with Arsenal FC for 22 years. Nicknamed “Mr. Arsenal”, he has been commemorated with a statue outside the Emirates Stadium. The central figure of the famous back four under George Graham, he nearly dropped out of playing football due to his battle with alcoholism.

Adams has a unique distinction of captaining a title-winning team in three different decades. He went on to manage clubs in England, Azerbaijan, and most notably Spain, where he had a unique approach to training

4. Steve Bould
Bould joined Arsenal from Stoke City, alongside Lee Dixon, in 1988. He partnered Tony Adams in the center of the iconic back four. After 11 seasons at Arsenal, Bould signed up with Sunderland for the 99/00 season before hanging up his boots.

He continued his association with Arsenal when he replaced Pat Rice as Wenger’s assistant manager in 2012 before taking over the role of the U23 coach in 2019.

5. Nigel Winterburn
Consistent left-back who completed resolute defense for much of the 1990s. Winterburn left the club at the end of the 1999-2000 season with the likes of Sylvinho and Ashley Cole waiting in the wings. After 13 seasons at Arsenal, Winterburn ended his career with West Ham in 2003.

He had a six-month spell as defensive coach at Blackburn Rovers in 2008 before master tactician, Sam Allardyce, deemed him surplus to requirements. Winterburn offers his expertise in the game as a pundit from time to time.

(L to R): David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira, Paul Merson, David Platt
(L to R): David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira, Paul Merson, David Platt

6. Martin Keown
An Arsenal youth player, Keown spent seven years away from the club with Aston Villa and Everton before rejoining the club in 1993. With the famous back four intact, Keown had to fight for his place in the team.

The defender provided this iconic image at Old Trafford in the 03/04 season, which typified the fiery nature of the Arsenal-Manchester United clashes in the late 90s and early 2000s. 

Post-retirement, Keown was involved with the team as a coach and trainer in 2006. His son, Niall, is also a defender with Partick Thistle FC. 

7. Patrick Vieira
Midfield general and captain who joined Arsenal in 1996 spent nine years in Wenger’s most successful period and captained the Invincibles team of 03/04.

From his debut against Sheffield Wednesday to the last kick of his Arsenal career, Vieira was the player which kept the Arsenal midfield ticking. He joined Juventus in 05/06 before signing on for Inter Milan the following season before retiring with Manchester City in 2011.

Vieira was appointed as the manager of OGC Nice in 2018.

8. Paul Merson
A youth player, Merson was a vital part of George Graham’s Arsenal squad. The attacking midfielder spent one season under Wenger before joining Middleborough for a bumper fee.

After additional spells at various clubs, his retirement saw enter the Sky Sports studios as the resident pundit. Lest we forget, let’s see him deliver this absolute diss at Tottenham Hotspur.

9. David Platt
An attacking midfielder who joined Arsenal after his spell in the Serie A. Mainly played as a substitute under Wenger, Platt did make vital contributions towards the double-winning season.

Platt went on to manage teams like Sampdoria, Nottingham Forest (as player-manager), England U-21, and Pune City in the Indian Super League.

10. Dennis Bergkamp
For the spectators at Highbury, Bergkamp was a footballing God.

Nurtured under the Johan Cryuff at Ajax, Bergkamp’s subdued two-year spell at Inter Milan allowed Arsenal to sign him for a record £7.5 million in 1995 – trebling their previous record transfer fee.

Dennis Bergkamp on his testimonial at the newly-built Emirates Stadium in 2006.
Dennis Bergkamp on his testimonial at the newly-built Emirates Stadium in 2006.
Photo Courtesy: Arsenal.com

At the end of the 95/96, this goal took Arsenal to Europe. In August 1997, the Goal of the Month competition voted three of his goals in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. Then there is that goal against Newcastle.  


Bergkamp possessed special qualities when he had with the ball at his feet – the kind that stopped time. After 11 seasons, he signed off with one last goal in a match commemorated in his honor. 

For the bibliophiles, we’d recommend picking up his autobiography, Stillness and Speed: My Story.  

11. John Hartson
Hartson spent half a season under Wenger but decided to become West Ham’s record signing in the winter transfer window of 96/7. He made a significant club contribution for Celtic where he scored 88 goals.

Hartson recovered from cancer in 2009 and makes an occasional appearance as a TV pundit.

12. Ian Wright
Ian Wright signed from Crystal Palace in 1991 and became the club’s top goalscorer with 185 goals. A crowd favorite, Wright wore his heart on his sleeve and it continues to shows in his television punditry – he gets even more passionate when Arsenal and England are involved.

His sons Shaun and Bradley Wright-Phillips went on to have football careers of their own.

13. Ray Parlour
The unsung hero of the Arsenal team. Ironically nicknamed “The Romford Pele”, Parlour joined the youth ranks of Arsenal in 1989 and went on to play for his boyhood club for 15 seasons. 

The favorite memory for the Gunners is his goal against Chelsea in the 2002 FA Cup final. The goal was immortalized by the words of TV presenter Tim Lovejoy who muttered “It’s only Ray Parlour” seconds before the goal was scored.

These days Parlour is a pundit on radio and television and has an autobiography aptly titled “The Romford Pelé: It’s Only Ray Parlour’s Autobiography”. Love him.

14. Remi Garde
The defensive midfielder spent three seasons with the club but had limited opportunities since he had to compete with the likes of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit. Garde had a moderately-successful stint as manager for Olympique Lyonnais.

15. Steve Morrow
An academy product, Morrow was a utility man in the squad.  His best contribution to Arsenal was scoring the winner in the 1993 League Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday. He broke his arm in post-match celebrations when Tony Adams dropped him to the ground.

Morrow tried his hand at the MLS and chose to return to England as a staff member at Arsenal.

(L to R): John Hartson, Ian Wright, Ray Parlour, Remi Garde, Steve Morrow, John Lukic, Andy Linighan, Paul Shaw, Gavin McGowan
(L to R): John Hartson, Ian Wright, Ray Parlour, Remi Garde, Steve Morrow, John Lukic, Andy Linighan, Paul Shaw, Gavin McGowan

16. John Lukic
Played for Leeds United and Arsenal in two spells for both clubs, Lukic was used as a backup goalkeeper during the Wenger era before retiring in 2001.

Lukic won the league title with Arsenal in 88/89 before being displaced by his understudy, David Seaman.


Apart from maintaining clean sheets, Lukic also had to dispel rumors that his Yugoslavia-born mother was not involved in the 1958 Munich air disaster that killed half the Manchester United team.

17. Andy Linighan
Back up to Tony Adams and Steve Bould, Lingham’s best Arsenal moment was his header in the 119th minute against Sheffield Wednesday to help the club lift the FA Cup in 1993. Arsenal had also beaten Sheffield Wednesday with an identical scoreline a month earlier to life the League Cup.

After seven seasons with Arsenal, Linighan joined Crystal Palace in the winter transfer window of 96/97.

Post-retirement, Linighan became the owner of a plumbing company.

18. Paul Shaw
A youth product, Shaw was a journeyman who had a handful of appearances for the club. He plied his trade in the lower leagues before moving to the USA to coach FC New York before the club’s dissolution.

19. Gavin McGowan
Part of the FA Youth Cup-winning team but only made a handful of first-team appearances before moving on to Luton Town.

 

After retiring in 2001, McGowan worked as a high school PE teacher.

20. Scott Marshall
A youth player, Marshall spent nine years at the club before moving on to the lower leagues. Marshall went on to gain coaching experience for various youth teams. He did take charge of one match at the senior level for Aston Villa – a 2-1 win over Leicester City in the FA Cup 2014-15 season.

21. Stephen Hughes
Youth product who was part of the 1997/98 double-winning squad. Injuries restricted his prospects at the top flight and went on to captain Coventry City in the Championships.

Hughes returned to Arsenal as a commentator and pundit for Arsenal Player.

22. Matthew Rose
A youth product, the defender made only five appearances for Arsenal before signing for Queens Park Rangers at the end of Wenger’s first season. 

After his retirement, Rose joined Barnsley as the first-team coach.

23. Lee Harper
The third choice goalkeeper made a single league appearance with the Gunners – a 2-0 win over Southampton in March 1997.

Harper signed for Queens Park Rangers that summer where he made over 100 appearances. His stint at Northampton Town saw him gain over 150 caps.

Harper ended his career at Kettering Town – where he went on to become the player-manager.

24. Ian Selley
A youth player who made a handful of appearances for the Gunners. After suffering a leg break, he made only one appearance under Wenger before being sold to Fulham in the summer of 1997.

Unfortunately, he broke his leg a second time before sliding down to the non-League teams before retiring in 2012. 

(L to R): Scott Marshall, Stephen Hughes, Matthew Rose, Lee Harper, Ian Selley, Nicolas Anelka, Giles Grimandi, Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit.
(L to R): Scott Marshall, Stephen Hughes, Matthew Rose, Lee Harper, Ian Selley, Nicolas Anelka, Giles Grimandi, Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit.

25. Nicolas Anelka
Bought from PSG for £500,000, Anelka was Wenger’s first signing as Arsenal boss. The mercurial forward went on to win the double in 97/98 and was voted PFA Young Player of the Year the following season.

Amidst heavy transfer speculation, Anelka was sold to Real Madrid for £22 million. The transfer financed the construction of the Arsenal Training Centre.

Anelka went on to play for multiple clubs including Manchester City, PSG, Fenerbahçe, and Chelsea, before ending up as player-manager at Mumbai City in India in 2015. 

Fun fact: Anelka was awarded a Serie A medal when he spent five months on loan with Juventus in 2013.  He played only two league matches.

26. Gilles Grimandi
The Frenchman joined his former boss at Monaco in 1997. In five seasons at Arsenal, Grimandi went on to make over 100 appearances as a utility player winning two league titles and two FA Cups.

Grimandi continued his association with the club by working as a chief scout in France. 

27. Marc Overmars
A key member of the 1997-98 Double-winning side. Overmars contributed two memorable goals for the Gunners – the goal at Old Trafford to give Arsenal the advantage over Manchester United in the league and the opening goal against Newcastle in the FA Cup finals.

Overmars signed for Barcelona in 2000 and returned to his childhood club Go Ahead Eagles before retiring. He joined Ajax as director of football in 2012.

Outside of football, Overmars runs a car restoration service named Overmars Classic Cars.

28. Emmanuel Petit
Signed from Monaco to join his former boss, the Frenchman solidified the Arsenal midfield as the Gunners achieved the domestic double in 97/98.

 

After 118 appearances, “Manu” signed for Barcelona, alongside Overmars, in 2000. After an indifferent season saw him join Chelsea, where he ended his career in 2004. 

29. Luis Boa Morte
One of Wenger’s first signings, the Portuguese did not make the cut at Arsenal over two seasons. He did manage to carve out a decent Premier League career with Fulham where he attained cult hero status.

After his retirement, Boa Morte had a fair share of stints as assistant manager, including Marco Silva’s Everton. 

Remember MTV Cribs? Here’s Luis “Dead Snake” showing off his crib. 

30. Christopher Wreh
The Liberian followed Wenger from Monaco in 1997. Wreh’s career peaked at Arsenal with an FA Cup semi-final winner in 1998. Always behind in the pecking order, Wreh went out in a series of loan spells before leaving the club in 2000.

His career took him to Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Scotland before ending his career in Indonesia.

He flirted with a career in music with a band called Soul Rebels, however, he seemed to be more in tune with football. Wreh was appointed as the assistant coach for the Liberian national team in 2019.

31. Jason Crowe
A youth prospect had a debut to forget. Coming on as a substitute in extra time of a League Cup clash against Birmingham, Crowe was sent off for a high tackle within 33 seconds of coming on the pitch

 

He played a couple more cup games before getting sold to Portsmouth in 1999. He forged out a decent career in the lower leagues with spells at Northampton Town.

32. Paolo Vernazza
Islington-born Vernazza had a handful of appearances for the Gunners, which included a goal against Coventry City.

He joined Watford in 2000 but was stabbed at his Islington home by an intruder in 2001. A relative mainstay at Vicarage Road, his career saw a slow journey down the divisions which culminated in non-league football.

Vernazza now works as a football agent.

(L to R): Luis Boa Morte, Christopher Wreh, Jason Crowe, Paolo Vernazza, Alex Manninger, Alberto Mendez, Jehad Muntasser, Matthew Upson, Isaiah Rankin.
(L to R): Luis Boa Morte, Christopher Wreh, Jason Crowe, Paolo Vernazza, Alex Manninger, Alberto Mendez, Jehad Muntasser, Matthew Upson, Isaiah Rankin.

33. Alex Manninger
Signed from Grazer AK in 1997, Manninger entered Arsenal folklore when he took over goalkeeping duties following David Seaman’s injury in January ’98.

The Austrian kept six clean sheets in a row – the most important one being the 1-0 victory at Old Trafford. Further heroics came in the FA Cup replay against West Ham, just a few days after the win against United. Manninger’s save in the penalty shootout ensured that the Gunners stayed on course for a historic double.

Manninger was named the Premier League Player of the Month for March 1998. Despite only having played 7 games in the 97/98 campaign, he was granted special dispensation for a medal as his contribution to Arsenal’s title win was considered to be significant enough.

After leaving the club in 2002, he went on to play primarily in the Serie A before Manninger hanging up his gloves in 2017.

34. Alberto Mendez
Plucked from non-league German football by Wenger, Mendez made only 11 appearances before embarking on a journeyman career in the lower leagues across Europe.

35. Jehad Muntasser
Not quite at the same level as the recruitment of Gaddafi’s son for Perugia in Serie A, but the grandson of former Libyan Prime Minister Mahmud al-Muntasir, Jehad Muntasser, did play for Arsenal.

Signed from the lower leagues of Italian football in the summer of ’97, Muntasser made one League Cup appearance before being sold in the subsequent winter transfer window. He journeyed into lower-division Italian clubs before ending his career in Libya.

Muntasser went on to create a football talent show that aimed at discovering hidden talents in football among the Arab youths.

36. Matthew Upson
Signed from Luton Town, Upson could not establish himself against the likes of Adams, Bould, and Keown.

He went on to have relatively successful spells at Birmingham and West Ham which was enough to earn him 21 caps for the English national team.

He retired in 2016 with Milton Keynes Dons and has appeared as a football pundit on BBC’s Match of the Day.

37. Isaiah Rankin
Former youth team player who made one appearance for the club – a substitute in a 1–1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur. He was sold to Bradford City in the summer of 1998.

Rankin went on to play for as many as 14 clubs in the lower leagues.

READ

Part 2: The Wenger Years 1998-2002

Wenger’s team finished in second place for three consecutive seasons before winning his second double in 01/02.

Part 3: The Wenger Years 2002-2006

Wenger creates history with the Invincibles while Arsenal say goodbye to Highbury.

Part 4: The Wenger Years 2006-2010

The move from Highbury to the Emirates stadium saw the start of a trophyless drought for Arsenal and Wenger.

Part 5: The Wenger Years 2010-2014

Top four was now a trophy for Wenger. Then Arsenal went on to actually win one in 2014.

Part 6: The Wenger Years 2014-2018

After 22 years, 1235 matches, three league titles, and seven FA Cup trophies, the Arsene Wenger era was over in 2018.

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