Arsene Wenger’s first Arsenal XI and the post-match protest following “revolution”

On this day 25 years ago Arsene Wenger took to the turf to take charge of the Gunners for the first time ever, what would follow would change the Premier League

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  • 10:43, 12 Oct 2021
  • Updated11:10, 12 Oct 2021
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October 12, 1996 is a date marked in every Arsenal fan’s diary.

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It is the day the Arsene Wenger first took to the dugout to manage Arsenal and began an illustrious and nearly unparalleled career in North London and in European football.

The Frenchman arrived as a relative unknown in England, fresh from Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan.

Wenger himself said : “People were asking who I was.

“I was a complete unknown. And there was no history of a foreign manager succeeding in England.”

He had taken the place of George Graham’s unsuccessful replacement Bruch Rioch, but could not start until eight games into the season, on that day in October.

What followed was a pretty by-the-book 2-0 win over an uninspired Blackburn Rovers.

Whilst the game was standard, the Frenchman brought a revolution to Highbury that would change everything for the Gunners.

Arsene Wenger watches his first ever game in charge of Arsenal from the visitors bench, with assistant manager Pat Rice and physio Gary Lewin
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Image:
Getty Images)

The debut

Wenger stunned the team first of all by calling them all into the hotel ballroom at 8:30am on the morning of the game.

He made them do a warmup and stretching session, something that was all but unheard of in those days.

The Frenchman became known for the then-radical tweaks he made to his players' lifestyles and diets.

Ian Wright later said: "We were all thinking, 'What is going on here?' It took some time to get used to it because you are talking about a complete left turn when you have been used to straight lines."

What would cause more uproar, is Wenger’s decision to ban chocolate bars.

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The game itself was marked out by two good goals from a 32-year-old Wright, and the third ever league start for Patrick Vieira.

The midfielder had been signed that summer on Wenger’s advice and, with Dennis Bergkamp not in the squad, was the only foreign player along with Welshman John Hartson in the squad.

The Arsenal lineup was: David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Martin Keown, Nigel Winterburn, Paul Merson, David Platt, Patrick Vieira, John Hartson, Ian Wright.

Wenger inherited George Graham’s solid defence which included Tony Adams and Martin Keown, but Wright shone up front, scoring after just three minutes.

Wright skipped around one defender and finished confidently into the far corner.

The second was set up by Vieira who, in what would become a very familiar fashion, strode up the field before looping a ball up towards Wright.

Ian Wright scoring his first goal for Arsenal under new boss Arsene Wenger
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Image:
PA Archive/PA Images)

Wright took one touch to control the ball and another to chip over the keeper.

The Mars bar revolution

Whilst the win was good, and had eased some doubts about the unknown Wenger, the Frenchman did have a small insurrection to deal with after the game.

As a part of the strict dietary regime, Wenger had banned chocolate bars from the team’s pre-game snacks, much to the displeasure of the team.

Speaking a few years ago, Wenger said: "At half-time, I asked my physio Gary Lewin, 'Nobody is talking, what's wrong with them?' He replied, 'They're hungry' – I hadn't given them their chocolate before the game. It was funny.”

Then, on the bus home, the players staged what was dubbed as "the Mars bars revolution," as Wenger recalled: "The players were chanting, 'We want our Mars bars!'"

Whilst the chocolate did remain banned, Arsenal's treat was that they went from strength to strength under Wenger.

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Where are they now?

From Wenger’s first-ever Arsenal XI, laden with legends, some went on to become managers, other pundits, more than a few started podcasts, one went to Azerbaijan, and another became a gifted ice skater.

The goalscorer of the day, Wright, now works as a TV pundit across men’s and women’s football, as well as having a few podcasts and TV shows about the game.

The man who set up the second goal, Vieira, is now in management, leading a resurgent Crystal Palace, whom many had written off at the start of the season.

David Seaman won Dancing on Ice in 2004, regularly plays in Soccer Aid, and has his own podcast Seaman Says .

Both Lee Dixon and Martin Keown are regulars on our TV screens as pundits.

Dixon works at ITV, and has invested in a mobile game called I Am Playr which allows the player to live out the life of a football, but without the retirement punditry and podcasts.

David Seaman on the final series of Dancing on Ice
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Image:
ITV)

Keown briefly worked as a defensive coach at Arsenal and now is a pundit on BBC and BT Sport.

After Tony Adams retired, he would unsuccessfully try his hand at coaching and as Harry Redknapp’s assistant manager at Portsmouth, where he eventually become No.1.

This included a stint in Azerbaijan at a club called Gabala, first as a coach, then as a sporting director.

Adams’ greatest legacy however might be the Sporting Chance Clinic, which helps professional athletes with addiction, and mental and emotional problems.

Steve Bould was one of a number of defenders Arsenal poached from Stoke at the time.

He moved into coaching after his playing career and spent time at Arsenal in various capacities until being sacked in May of this year as the U23 manager.

Ray Parlour claimed Bould once ate nine dinners during an eating competition on a coach back from Newcastle.

Paul Merson works frequently as a pundit and recently revealed he had suffered from drug and drink addiction and still struggles with gambling addiction.

Nigel Winterburn completed Arsenal’s infamous defence.

After retiring, he largely kept out of the public eye, appearing on BT Sport Score sometimes, and had a brief spell as a defensive coach at Blackburn before being let go by Sam Allardyce.

David Platt, like many others, went on into management and coaching and was most recently a club consultant for U.S. Città di Palermo in Serie B following the club takeover by an English group.

John Hartson completes Wenger’s first-ever lineup and is another player turned pundit, most frequently found on your screens on BT Sport Score on Saturdays.

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    Comment MORE ON Paul MersonNigel WinterburnDavid SeamanJohn HartsonMartin KeownSteve BouldDavid PlattArsene WengerLee DixonIan WrightPatrick VieiraTony AdamsArsenal FC

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