How Wenger turned Arsenal from Mars bar lovers to the Invincibles
Wenger tells how he made Arsenal hungry for success, instead of chocolates at the launch of his autobiography
Legendary Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is regularly feted as the great moderniser of English football, but one of his early struggles was weaning his players off Mars chocolate bars.
The 70-year-old Frenchman, who won three league titles and seven FA Cups during his 1996-2018 tenure with the Gunners, made the comments during the launch of his autobiography "My Life in Red and White", which was streamed live yesterday morning (Singapore time) from London.
Explaining what it was like trying to modernise training, fitness regimens and diets when he arrived at Highbury from Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1996, Wenger said: "I was already quite successful (as) a manager in France, in Japan.
"I came to England and suddenly it's Arsene who? So I had to start from scratch again and I could understand and accept that. But, of course, I could feel the scepticism among the players. I inherited a team that was monoculturally English, tough guys. You could go to a fight with them...
"The were very good on the pitch, but they were very good at night off the pitch as well...
"You don't suppress the beers and the wine without getting scepticism. But they were very intelligent."
Besides trying to change the club's famed drinking culture at the time, Wenger also modified their eating habits.
He recounted: "I suppressed the chocolate Mars bars and, on the way to the stadium (for my first game against Blackburn Rovers), the players chanted at the back of the coach, 'We want our Mars bars'...
"At half-time, we were 1-0 up and nobody said a word. Usually, I let the players come in, calm down, they speak, they talk. But nobody said a word. And I said to the physio, 'What's going on there?'
"He said: 'They're hungry'."
Wenger, who also won titles with Nagoya and AS Monaco, created a hunger among his players for success, most famously in his Invincibles of 2003/04.
Along with Preston North End's class of 1888/89, they are the only other English top-flight team to go through a league season unbeaten.
Wenger, who is now Fifa's chief of global football development, said that he had made a calculated call to set the unbeaten campaign target in 2002/03.
Despite some players finding that benchmark unrealistic, he broached the subject again ahead of the next season.
He said: "It was a conscious decision because sometimes I was very demanding with the collective team target.
"And it is interesting because sometimes you have to put the seeds in the brain and the answer comes a long time later.
"But in 2003, we didn't win the Premiership. And I asked the players... why did we not win?
"And they told me it's because of you, especially Martin Keown. 'Because you set us too high a target and, once we lost a game, we had nowhere to go'.
"And I said, 'I think we can do it, but you must really want it'.
"In 2003/04, we managed to do it. We won the championship with four games to go. I told them, 'Now my friends, you have to become immortal'."
Of that team, no player has earned a sense of immortality among the Gunners faithful like Thierry Henry, the club's record goalscorer with 226 goals in 369 matches in all competitions.
But Wenger revealed that the French World Cup and European Championship winner, who is also his nation's record goalscorer, had reservations about his ability to score.
Wenger said of the converted winger, who struggled at Juventus before his 1999 move to Arsenal: "At the start, he said, 'You play me (at) centre-forward, I'm not sure I can score goals'.
"I said to him, 'Don't worry, just play there'. I made some exercises in training when I asked him to time his runs... When the timing of his movement is right, with his pace and his technical quality, you think he can play there...
"After he played centre-forward, after 10 minutes he knew what is the weakness of every defender."
Wenger, who guided the Gunners to the final of the 2006 Champions League and the 2000 Uefa Cup, himself seemed to find chinks in Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in a way no one else did after the Scot won his first league title in 1993.
The pair regularly traded barbs in the media when they were both managers, but now share a friendship.
Wenger smiled when Ferguson's name was brought up, saying: "Competition makes you hate your opponent. I think he hated me many times and I hated him sometimes as well. But when the competition goes, what remains is respect."
With a sly smirk, Wenger quipped: "When you had competition together, it's always a fight... we always had to deal with Fergie time as well, don't forget."
Arteta has good grip on Gunners; they can finish in top 4: Wenger
Ex-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes that his former team can finish in the top four of the English Premier League for the first time since he led them to second place in 2015/16.
The 70-year-old, who won three league titles and seven FA Cups, made the comments during the launch of his autobiography "My Life in Red and White", which was streamed live yesterday morning (Singapore time) from London.
When asked about the job his former charge Mikel Arteta is doing at the Emirates, Wenger said: "They are on a good way up.
"Last year, we made 56 points and (it) is a very low points (tally). On what I see, we have a good chance to be back in the top four this season.
"He (Arteta) looks to have a good grip on the team, a good influence.
"The players have a good attitude. And we have a balanced quality now between defending and attacking.
"At the moment... I don't know why, there's no dominant team in the league. It opens a good chance for everybody."
The Frenchman added in a separate interview with Sky Sports that he could see Arteta bringing the EPL trophy back to north London for the first time since he lifted it in 2003/04.
Said Wenger: "We have bought well, spent a lot of money in the last two years.
"Suddenly, we discovered huge resources - that was quite surprising. I think he has the quantity and quality of players, yes we can go for it. Why not?" - DILENJIT SINGH