Arsène Wenger has presided over a golden era for Arsenal but it's fair to say that George Graham laid the foundations for the Club's modern-day success.
A hero of the Double-winning side of 1970/71, Graham returned to Highbury in May 1986 after a successful start to his managerial career at Millwall. Arsenal were treading water in the mid 80s - they had not won the title since Graham himself paraded the trophy 15 years earlier - and needed someone to shake things up.
"Graham was an uncompromising manager and instilled discipline and a strong work ethic from day one."
Graham was that man. He revitalised the Club, bringing through a talented generation of young players such as David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and Tony Adams and supplementing them with a raft of astute signings including Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn and Steve Bould. That trio, along with Adams, became the Back Four, the bedrock on which Graham's success was built.
The Scot had been known as 'Stroller' during his playing days, a nickname which reflected his laid-back approach in the middle of the park. But if Arsenal's players expected a relaxed, easy-going new boss in 1986, they were hugely mistaken. Graham was an uncompromising manager and instilled discipline and a strong work ethic from day one.
His methods were rewarded with a fourth-place finish in Graham's first season and, more importantly, the Club's first piece of silverware for eight years. Charlie Nicholas was the hero at Wembley with two goals as Arsenal came from behind to beat Liverpool in the Littlewoods Cup Final but this was the triumph of a cohesive team unit - and more was to come.
The title returned to Highbury for the first time since 1971 when Michael Thomas struck in stoppage time at Anfield on May 26, 1989. It is a game and a date etched in the memory of every Arsenal fan and Graham was the architect of that famous victory. Liverpool were technically superior to Arsenal but Graham won the tactical battle and, with it, the biggest prize in English football.
Graham's ability to foster a siege mentality within the dressing room also helped. Arsenal were docked two points during the 1990/91 campaign following a brawl with Manchester United players at Old Trafford but they took that blow on the chin and went on to win the title by seven points, losing just one game while conceding only 18 goals.
That final statistic owed so much to the famous Back Four and new goalkeeper David Seaman, who Graham insisted on signing in the summer of 1990 despite the fact that John Lukic was a favourite among the Highbury faithful. "I still think John Lukic is one of the best keepers in the country; I just think David Seaman is the best," said Graham. He was proved right.
The inspired signings continued. Ian Wright's arrival early in the 1991/92 gave Arsenal a steady supply of goals and he went on to break the Club's scoring record. However, Wright's arrival was soon followed by a change of tactics. Perhaps influenced by a European Cup defeat to Benfica, Graham swapped the flair of Rocastle and Anders Limpar for a more workmanlike midfield.
That made Arsenal even harder to break down but they lost some flair going forward so, despite having won the title so comfortably in 1991, the championship eluded Arsenal for the remainder of Graham's reigns. Instead, with Wright always capable of grabbing a goal and the Back Four bordering on inpenetrable, Arsenal started to dominate the Cup competitions.
They became the first club to win the FA Cup and League Cup in the same season when Andy Linighan and Steve Morrow emerged as unlikely heroes in 1993. The Cup Winners' Cup followed in 1994 - Arsenal's first European trophy for 24 years - after a stubborn rearguard action against Parma in Copenhagen. 'One-nil to the Arsenal' was born.
Within a year Graham had gone but he had brought the good times back to Highbury and left plenty for his successors to build on, not least that rock-solid defence. These days the fans are well aware that 'Arsène Knows'. But 'George Knows' came first.
Copyright 2020 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.