GILLES GRIMANDI feared for his LIFE on a drinking session with Ray Parlour at Arsenal.
Former France ace Grimandi, 52, joined in summer 1997 when the infamous “Tuesday Club” was still going.
It was led by the likes of Parlour and skipper Tony Adams and Grimandi told SunSport: “I was only starting to speak English but I like good company so wanted to go.
“I went one day and I met many good drinkers. I said to Ray soon after, ‘I need to go home or I am going to die!’ Ray was laughing.
“I was very surprised. Another day, a French player was smoking and the English players were shocked.
“Yet the day before they were totally drunk and it wasn’t shocking. We had very different approaches to drinking and smoking.”
Fast forward 15 years and for the first time in a long time, Arsenal are clear at the Premier League summit.
And high in the French Alps, a former two-time Gunners Double winner is starting to believe that Mikel Arteta has what it takes to emulate the great Arsene Wenger.
Ex-French star Gilles Grimandi, 52, became something of a North London cult hero from 1997 to 2002 — winning two Premier Leagues and two FA Cups.
In his first season in England, he was part of an incredible dressing room that overcame a 12-point gap from February 1998 to pip Manchester United to the title.
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Twenty five years on and Arteta’s men are the ones being chased, five points clear with a game in hand on Manchester City heading into the home stretch.
Yet speaking from his birthplace of Gap in south-east France — 750 metres above sea level — Grimandi sees the similarities between the past and present.
Ex-midfielder Grimandi told SunSport: “To win the title, it is about confidence.
“You can play with the same players in a different season and you can just finish mid-table.
“What is important is the manager convincing the players that they can do it. That’s not easy.
“In that 1998 season, we were in trouble. We were behind Manchester United by a lot of points.
“However, even then, Arsene was convincing us that we could come back. We didn’t believe it at first but he was always convinced we could.
“As soon as it is in your head, when you believe you are strong enough and start to get results, you can win a title.
“Every time we were on our way to a game, we were convinced that nothing wrong could happen, that we would win.
“I was not there for the Invincibles — but it felt exactly like that.
“Likewise, Mikel Arteta is convinced that they can do it and I am more convinced now than I ever have been.
“I am an optimist, because I would love to see Arsenal win the title. But they now have the confidence to beat everyone.
“Even if they lose against Manchester City next week, they are convinced in their head that it can be done. It was not like this before.
“They haven’t made too many mistakes this season and I cannot see what will happen to see them lose the title. They will do it and I really hope they do. They deserve it.”
It has been just under four years since Grimandi was involved in football.
His short tenure as Nice technical director, working alongside old friend Patrick Vieira, ended in October 2019 following Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s purchase of the club with INEOS.
Before that, he worked as an Arsenal scout for 13 years, where he witnessed the club’s slow decline from 2006 onwards and the increasing difficulty in persuading players to join.
He recalled: “The job of scouting is about finding but also missing players. For me, it is Kylian Mbappe. We just could not convince him.
“He was out of contract in June 2013 and we met him in February. If we could have convinced him to join, he would have changed the club — but he then decided on Monaco.
“Arsenal were not always playing their best so it was quite complicated. At first it was easy, as soon as we talked to a player he wanted to sign it.
“However, if you are not getting results it is difficult to bring top players to help the team.
“That’s why it is important to stay at the top for as long as possible. It is so much easier.
“Yet the likes of Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah, who I watched develop, prove you should never forget the talent you have inside your club, even in difficult times.”
By his own admission, Grimandi was not “especially talented”, and arrived in a dressing room in July 1997 brimming with experienced stars and intimidating characters.
But it was not long before that squad’s physicality and aggression rubbed off on him.
In October 2000, Lazio’s Diego Simeone required six stitches after being struck by Grimandi in a Champions League clash.
The Frenchman was also sent off in September 1999 for blatantly elbowing Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola at the Nou Camp.
When reminded of these incidents, Grimandi explained: “If you are not physical, you cannot win any trophies. We knew any opponent would find it tough against us.
“Maybe we lacked some physical ability with some of the more mature players. But our character was exceptional with Vieira, Martin Keown, Tony Adams and Dennis Bergkamp.
“When I think about the five years, I realise now what it means to win trophies. But you also spend time with people that you will never forget.”