What did George Graham ever do for Arsene Wenger? Here's what...
3) He instilled an instabiable winning mentality
“You might not like me lads,” Graham told his players, “but if you work hard, you’ll win trophies and medals you can show your children and your grandchildren."
His maxims always remained the same: don’t concede goals. The bottom line is Arsenal win. Everyone fights for one another at Arsenal. We’re blood brothers, who play for the cannon on the shirt. He surrounded himself with trustworthy colleagues from his playing days – Pat Rice and George Armstrong – who shared Graham’s 'One for all' mentality and who, latterly, would work with Arsene Wenger.
The Frenchman labelled Rice and Armstrong (both Double winners in Bertie Mee’s 1971 side, who’d won 10 league games by a single goal) “true Arsenal men who understand the traditions of the club and who can pass on the message to the new breed of players.”
Under Graham, the Gunners became the ultimate flatline bullies – “1-0 to the Arsenal” became the team’s mantra – and although the quality of football was dire at times, it proved effective on many a big occasion, none more so than in the 1994 Cup Winners' Cup Final victory over a more technically-gifted Parma side.
The “1-0 to the Arsenal” philosophy didn’t simply die away when Graham departed the club. In 1997/98, Arsenal won seven league games 1-0, including the pivotal victory at Old Trafford courtesy of Marc Overmars’ winner, and a nerve-shredding single-goal Highbury win over Derby. The decisive victory in Manchester at the tail end of the 2001/02 campaign was also by a single goal.
When Wenger’s Arsenal hit a winter dip during 1997/98, skipper Adams and his fellow defensive stalwarts instigated a hastily-convened team meeting at the Café Royal during the Christmas party to emphasise to Vieira, Overmars et al the need for an all-for-one mentality, and for the former to shield the back four. “Tony was quick to point out that under George Graham, success only came when the team operated as an interlocking unit,” explained Vieira. “It was a turning point in our season, and we heeded what Tony said.”
As the infamous Battle of Old Trafford kicked off at the start of the 2003/04 campaign (Ruud van Nistelrooy’s missed late penalty meant Arsenal escaped with a 0-0 draw), Ray Parlour and Martin Keown, the two final survivors of the Graham era, were at the centre of the storm. “It certainly was a bit of a throwback to the mentality we had under George,” admitted Parlour. “Had we lost that game, we would never have been The Invincibles and it might have seriously affected our season.”
Both Parlour and Keown departed Highbury after Arsenal secured the league title – nine years after George Graham was fired. Arsenal haven’t really come close to winning the championship since.