‘We surprised him and went on and on and on’

Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn.

From right to left, that was THE classic Arsenal back four.
Forged in 1988 by George Graham and supplemented over the years by the likes of David O’Leary and Martin Keown, that famous foursome was still going strong when Arsene Wenger arrived at the club.
By then we were playing a back three - Bruce Rioch’s preferred formation - and Wenger waited a year until returning to a back four. When he did, the defence played a vital role in our 1997/98 league and cup double.
“He actually kept [the back three at first],” Steve Bould told “He arrived in the September [of 1996] and he kept the back three until the following season, and then we played the four.”
Tony Adams added: “Credit to him, things that were working he just went ‘OK, well done. Bouldy, great player, get on with it. Dicko, get on with it’. All these guys, especially the older ones, they all surprised him and just went on and on and on.
“I sat down with him and I said to him that we’ve just converted after all these years of playing a back four and Bruce Rioch had us in a back three,” Adams went on. “I said ‘Look, we’re fourth in the table so maybe it’s not a good time to change’, and he said OK and left a lot of things alone.”
By then, after 10 years together, that defensive understanding was almost instinctive.
“Well, it had to be because I couldn’t run!” joked Bould. “What was I, 34 or 35 then? No, of course it was ingrained.”

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