In 'Defining Moments', former Arsenal stars select the situations that defined their career with the Gunners.
Gilles Grimandi is the latest to recall his favourite memories of his time in Arsenal colours.
I was so happy when I found out that Arsenal wanted me to sign for the club. I’d helped Monaco win the league in 1997 after reaching a UEFA Cup semi-final and qualifying for the Champions League, so I was ready for a new challenge.Arsène Wenger was a huge reason for me to come to the club. He knew me from Monaco so he felt I could help the team. That’s why I moved to a big club like this instead of somewhere else.There was a very small difference between the Arsène Wenger I worked with in France and the one who I worked with in England. Of course, in France he was at Monaco for a long time whereas when he came here he was unable to change things straight away, he had to wait.At Monaco, he had already made little changes such as the players’ diet, whereas here he was just getting started. It was a different experience for me as a player. The game was a lot more physical and you needed to be brave every day. Looking back, though, it was a fantastic experience for me on and off the pitch.
THE TURNING POINT
Speaking honestly, there were points in the first season where I lost confidence and I was not happy with the performances I was putting in. I should have played with more freedom by enjoying myself and not putting too much pressure on my own shoulders.At some points I didn’t realise how lucky I was to be able to be playing for such a big club. That’s why I always tell young players now to enjoy themselves and not think about what’s going on around them too much.I think the turning point for me was after the Sheffield Wednesday game. It was a nightmare because I broke my elbow and my shoulder, and it was probably my worst game at the club (Arsenal lost 2-0 and Gilles sliced a pass into the path of Andy Booth for Wednesday’s first goal). After I came back, I scored that goal against Crystal Palace which was so special for me - even though it was actually a cross!It was such an important goal because we were fighting for the title and we were struggling to find a breakthrough. Scoring that goal gave me such a confidence boost and I had that buzz again. I realised that it couldn’t get any worse than that Sheffield Wednesday game so I said to myself, ‘Either I change my ways or I leave the club’, and then after that I felt like I played much better football over the next few years.
WINNING DOUBLE IN FIRST SEASON
It was a fantastic year for me and a perfect start to life at Arsenal. It was a bit tough to get used to at the beginning because it was a different type of football and a totally different experience abroad, so it took time for me to acclimatise to English football, but the rewards at the end of my first season were well worth it.Despite having so many new signings with the likes of myself, Marc Overmars and Manu Petit, the team were playing so well that it was easy to fit into the team. It helped a lot to have Manu there because obviously he spoke French too, and he was a great player.Arsène Wenger was a big part of making sure everyone was able to work well together. He was the glue which kept us all stuck together because he had experience coaching the old players and also bringing new players through. The mix in our team was very good and he also changed his philosophy a bit to suit the needs of the club.I think that all of those factors coming together at the right time made my first season one which I will never, ever forget. Like I said before, the rewards at the end of that season and the fans’ support as well made moving to north London well worth it.
I started my five years at Arsenal by winning the double and then ended it by winning another double. I enjoyed every single day at the club but winning these doubles was very special to me.Sol Campbell was signed at the start of that 2001/02 season and he was a fantastic player. There was more competition for places at centre back but we both understood that would happen at a big club like Arsenal and it really brought the best out of us. I knew I had to fight hard for my place and at the end of the season I was so pleased I was able to play the number of games I had.Of course it was an advantage for me to be able to play at centre back, right back and also in midfield too. I’d never played in the middle of the park before, that’s just something I had to learn in order to get game time at such a big club. The important thing was that I knew what I could do and I knew my limitations. That’s what helped me play in different positions.At the end of the day, you have to remember that football is special in England and sometimes as a player you don’t realise what a great opportunity it is to play in this atmosphere and in these conditions. It’s only once you stop playing football that you realise how lucky you have actually been.
Gilles is currently Arsenal’s chief French scout.
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