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When Arsene Wenger arrived as manager of Arsenal in 1996, he found quite the gift awaiting him. Although Bruce Rioch, Stewart Houston and Pat Rice had all held the reigns at Arsenal in the 12 months prior to Wenger's arrival, the famous back four drilled by George Graham remained in place.
The term "back four" is used loosely. What Arsene Wenger discovered was more like a back six. As well as the quartet of Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn, there was also reserve centre-half Martin Keown and goalkeeper David Seaman.
Graham had turned this collection of players in to an impenetrable unit. Their understanding was so comprehensive that Wenger did not need to change a thing. Instead, he focused on adding attacking flair to a stable base.
Bruce Rioch had begun that process by acquiring Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt. In his first two years as Arsenal manager, Wenger added the sprightly Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka to increase Arsenal's firepower.
Arsenal had a sturdy back four and a prolific attack. In order to speed up the transitions between the two, Arsene Wenger recruited Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit. These two midfielders became the epitomy of the box-to-box style, simultaneously protecting the back four and prompting the attackers with probing passes.
Opposing sides in the Premier League had neither the guile to break down Arsenal's well-organised defence nor the athleticism to cope with their speed in attack. The Gunners were rewarded with Wenger's first Premier League title in 1997-98.
The same formula brought Arsene Wenger his second title in 2002. By then, he had begun the process of replacing the ageing defence. Sol Campbell had arrived to compete with Adams and Keown for a spot at centre-back, but the structure remained identical: a resilient defence, the instant box-to-box transitions of Vieira, and an attack built around speed in behind.