Arsenal ‘Invincible’ Lauren has recalled how the competitive nature of the club’s training sessions – which often led to arguments – drove the Gunners on during a golden period under the guidance of Arsene Wenger.
The north London side enjoyed a hugely successful period during the Frenchman’s initial seasons in English football, winning three Premier League titles in just seven seasons, the latter of which came after a historic unbeaten season.
Former full-back Lauren has now revealed how tempers often flared during Arsenal’s ultra-competitive sessions, revealing the club’s coaching staff rarely volunteered to referee fiery training contests.
“When there was a game, Wenger would say: ‘Who’s the ref?’ Pat Rice, [former equipment manager] Paul Johnson, [assistant coach] Boro Primorac … No one wanted it. Wenger was clever – he got out of there, went to the corner, hid and just watched. Pat was the bravest and he’d end up arguing with everyone,” Lauren told The Guardian.
“There was argument after argument: Freddie [Ljungberg] with this guy, Martin [Keown] with that guy, me with someone else. [Dennis] Bergkamp was a genius but he was also incredibly competitive. That’s why we won.”
Lauren spoke further on the competitive edge within the Arsenal dressing room during that period, citing the example of Thierry Henry – the club’s all-time record goalscorer – as a player whose mentality was to win at all costs.
“Why did Thierry Henry become Arsenal’s all-time top scorer? Talent? Because he was really good and a great athlete? No. Because he wanted to be the best every single day of his life. He never ducked a game, never said: ‘I’ve got a knock.’ The session finished and he’d stay to take shots, practise diagonal runs. On the bus, Henry, me, Edu and [Patrick] Vieira played cards and Henry got angry if he lost. You can laugh but it was like that. If you didn’t give him the ball, if he didn’t score, he would get mad. It was horrific.
“I’ve had confrontations with Henry and Vieira, Vieira with Martin Keown, Keown with Henry, Henry with Ljungberg, everyone. There was one at Riazor against Deportivo when Henry stopped and raised his arms at me. Bloody hell.
“You should have seen our training sessions. It’s a good job journalists weren’t there; it would have been horrible.“
The Cameroonian also recalled a dressing room conversation with midfielder Gilberto Silva, the Brazilian enforcer having been shocked by the level of competitive edge upon his arrival at Highbury.
“Martin Keown goes in hard and he’s unlucky enough to injure [back-up goalkeeper] Rami Shaaban,” he explained. “We get to the dressing room and Gilberto says: ‘Bro, is everyone mad here?’ From the next day on, he never once took his shin pads off – and we’re talking Gilberto Silva. We were hard, everyone wanted to win. And that showed on the pitch.”