Where Are They Now: What Happened to Arsene Wenger's First Arsenal XI?

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2017

Arsene Wenger in the dugout back in October 1996.
Arsene Wenger in the dugout back in October 1996.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It's now 21 years since Arsene Wenger's first official game in charge of Arsenal. Although he had initially accepted the job a few weeks before, his contract with Nagoya Grampus Eight necessitated a delay. On October 12, 1996, he finally took to the dugout as the Gunners' boss.

The fixture in question was a 2-0 win at Blackburn Rovers. Funnily enough, Wenger began his Arsenal reign playing three at the back—a system he has reverted to in recent months.

In this piece, we cast an eye down the teamsheet and ask what became of the XI Wenger picked on that day.


Goalkeeper: David Seaman

12 Oct 1996:  David Seaman of Arsenal gives the instructions during the FA Carling Premier league match between Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal at Ewood Park in Blackburn. Arsenal went onto win the game by 0-2. Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill/Allsport
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

England international goalkeeper Seaman remained Wenger's No. 1 for a further seven years. It was only in 2003 that Arsenal finally released him, allowing him to join Manchester City on a free transfer. 

Unfortunately, the move didn't pan out particularly well for Seaman. Injuries began to mount up, and by January 2004, he was forced into retirement.

He briefly considered coming back to play for Walsall in 2005 but opted against it when he was informed that playing would have constituted a breach in the terms of his retirement insurance pay-out. 

These days, Seaman enjoys occasional media appearances and perfecting his golf swing.


Right wing-back: Lee Dixon 

The former Stoke City full-back left Arsenal a year earlier than Seaman, retiring as a double-winner in 2002. He was 38 years old and had racked up a remarkable 458 league appearances.

He now works as a pundit for ITV in the UK and NBC in the United States. He's eloquent about the game and tends to shy away from the cliche-ridden analysis offered by less capable pundits. 

Dixon's interests in retirement have extended beyond football. Perhaps surprisingly, he is also a patron for Yorke Dancea ballet company producing dance in London and Los Angeles.


Centre-back: Martin Keown

Seaman, Dixon, Keown and the rest were all part of an ageing Arsenal defence that most onlookers expected Wenger to swiftly dispense with. However, they ended up staying well into the new millennium. 

Keown was the man who lasted longest, making enough appearances to pick up a Premier League winner’s medal in the Invincibles campaign of 2003/04. He then left Arsenal and had brief spells with Leicester City and Reading before hanging up his boots. 

He dabbled with coaching, taking his badges and doing some work with the Arsenal first-team squad during the 2005/06 campaign. However, like many of his former team-mates, Keown is best known for his work as a television analyst.


Centre-back: Steve Bould

Only one member of the XI from Wenger's first match is still at Arsenal, and that's Bould. He initially left the club in 1999 to join Sunderland but was back by 2001 to embark on a career as a coach. 

After leading Arsenal's academy side to three league titles, he succeeded Pat Rice as Wenger's assistant in 2012. Since taking that role, he has helped Arsenal to win three FA Cups in four years. 

What's interesting is that although Bould was regarded as an outstanding centre-half, he has struggled to make Arsenal defensively solid. He is proof that someone's approach to coaching does not always reflect their playing style.


Centre-back: Tony Adams

12 Oct 1996:  Tony Adams of Arsenal salutes the crowd after his team's victory during the FA Carling Premier league match between Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal at Ewood Park in Blackburn. Arsenal went onto win the match by 0-2. Mandatory Credit: Shaun Bott
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The man who was synonymous with Arsenal Football Club for two decades is now a relative stranger at the Emirates Stadium. A statue of Adams stands on the stadium's concourse, but the man himself is rarely spotted at the ground. 

It's clear who Adams feels is responsible for that. Speaking about Wenger in an interview with Donald McRae of the Guardian earlier this year, he said: "He [Wenger] stopped me from getting back into the club. That has been real."

His post-playing career has been an odd one. Failed managerial spells with Portsmouth and Gabala were followed by sporting director positions at Gabala FC in Azerbaijan, Chinese club Chongqing and Granada.

Adams has suggested his aspiration remains to coach, but it's hard to see how he will find gainful employment in that field.

One thing is certain: While Wenger remains at Arsenal, Adams is unlikely to be back.


Left wing-back: Nigel Winterburn

12 Oct 1996:  Nigel Winterburn of Arsenal in action during the FA Carling Premier league match between Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal at Ewood Park in Blackburn. Arsenal went onto win the game by 0-2. Mandatory Credit: Clive Brunskill/Allsport
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

After leaving Arsenal in 2000, Winterburn managed another three years with West Ham United before retiring. 

After a brief spell out of the game, he joined Paul Ince's backroom team at Blackburn. However, when the former Manchester United man was replaced by Sam Allardyce, Winterburn found himself out of a job.

He now works primarily in the media. 


Central midfield: David Platt 

Within a few months of leaving Arsenal in 1998, Platt returned to Italy to become player-manager at Sampdoria. In the end, with the club heading towards relegation, he resigned.  

There followed a doomed spell as boss at Nottingham Forest, before he enjoyed a reprieve with a successful stint as England under-21 manager.

He went on to become Roberto Mancini's assistant at Manchester City throughout the Italian's time in the Premier League.

While Mancini is now stationed at Zenit St Petersburg, Platt is not involved in the game.


Central midfield: Patrick Vieira

Wenger's first season with Arsenal was also Vieira's. The rest, as they say, is history.

The marauding midfielder went on to conquer the Premier League and become the captain before eventually departing for Juventus.

Like Platt, Vieira spent some time with Manchester City before assuming the head coach role for New York City FC


Central midfield: Paul Merson

When Wenger arrived at Arsenal, Merson was one of the most in-form players in the side. However, by the start of the 1997/98 season, he had been sold to Middlesbrough

After spells with Aston Villa, Portsmouth, Walsall and Tamworth, Merson is now a regular pundit for Sky Sports.

He has just shocked football by announcing his intention to turn out for Welsh fourth-tier side Caerau at the age of 49, per Sky Sports.


Striker: Ian Wright

12 Oct 1996:  Ian Wright of Arsenal (centre) celebrates with teammates John Hartson (right) and Paul Merson (left) after scoring the first of his two goals during the FA Carling Premier league match between Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal at Ewood Park in Bl
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Arsenal's match-winner on the day with a typically clinical brace at Ewood Park, Wright did not last long at the club under Wenger. Over the course of the 1997/98 season, he lost his place to Nicolas Anelka and was allowed to join West Ham.

After a few journeyman years that took in spells with the likes of Celtic and Burnley, Wright moved into broadcasting. He now appears regularly as a pundit, where he strives for objectivity despite his obvious bias towards Arsenal.

Wright had a brief spell as a first-team coach with MK Dons, but he appears to be more comfortable on the television couch than coaching.


Striker: John Hartson

Hartson was never likely to thrive under Wenger. His physical style was not suited to the technical game the new boss was hoping to cultivate. In February 1997, he was sold to West Ham for a club-record fee.

He went on to enjoy an excellent career, particularly with Celtic and at international level with Wales. His greatest triumph was arguably overcoming cancer in 2009—he later created the John Hartson Foundation to help raise awareness of testicular cancer. 

It probably won't surprise anyone to learn that Hartson, like so many of his team-mates, is now an accomplished television pundit.

Perhaps some of Wenger's articulacy rubbed off on his players.


James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and follows the club from a London base. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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