Love him or not, Arsene Wenger is without doubt an increasingly exceptional football manager. While most of his peers spend shorter and shorter periods of time at each team, he is in his 17th year in north London, at a club over which he exerts an unusual degree of influence. Most managers tend to scrape as much cash out of their chairmen as possible in order to get the strongest possible squad, yet Arsene has in recent seasons become almost synonymous with parsimony. Someone once said that while Jose Mourinho manages as if he has the team’s next 10 days at heart, Arsene manages as if he’s most concerned with where the club will be in 80 years’ from now.

At the time of writing – with Arsenal having made their worst league start since Arsene took over as manager – many Gooners are questioning whether the Frenchman’s unique attributes are still helping, or even hindering the side. It is a pertinent moment, then, to examine the “Wenger Code” – the titular objective of a book released last month by GCR, authored by Richard Evans.

The introduction is devoted to a reflection of recent seasons during which the so called Wenger Code has fallen into question. It recounts the unwelcome transformation from a silverware-winning team to one that has been unable to contribute to the trophy cabinet; it also considers the move to the new stadium, and how various fans have reacted to the changing outlook. In a swipe that appears to set out the author’s position, Evans cites “the brasher, better-heeled brigade who came on board when Wenger started winning things”, concluding that “some supporters need to be reminded that no team, not even Arsenal, have a divine right to win things.” Needless to say that Evans was a fan back in the days of Reg Lewis and Joe Mercer.

As with the most recent Arsenal book that I reviewed, this is a piece of work by a fan, written for other fans. The author explains the need for catharsis that led to him taking pen to paper: this past summer, following “two of [Arsenal's] most frustrating seasons” under the current manager, he sought “an outlet for my frustration – I tied my Arsenal scarf around my neck and took a detailed look at the highs and lows and ultimate failures of the last two campaigns.”

The Wenger Code: will it survive the age of the oligarch?, to use its full title, is therefore not a theoretical examination of Arsene’s ideology, but rather a fan’s-eye view of recent events – written in the hope that this context will help provide an answer to the question it poses. The book takes the reader back through numerous games, but is not confined to on-pitch activities, also referencing changing evidence of supporters’ views (such as the results of fan surveys) and how events have been portrayed through the media (the introduction, amusingly, cites an article from a prominent national newspaper in 2001 suggesting that Leeds and Liverpool would offer more of a threat to Manchester United in the 2002 season than Arsenal would be capable of.)

Narrating the past couple of seasons, the author attempts to dissect where things went wrong, occasionally deploying lists of statistics in a bid to understand the bottom line outcomes. To this extent The Wenger Code often reads like a (very long) blog post, printed into hard back.

The conclusion of the Wenger Code is, essentially, that there isn’t one. At the very beginning Evans is modest enough to admit that he “certainly do[es]n’t have the answers” to how Arsene’s multiple-silverware-winning sides have turned into significantly less successful teams. “Firstly, I am not a coach, and secondly one of the best in the business, a certain Arsene Wenger, is not absolutely certain he knows himself.”

As we head towards Christmas with Arsenal stranded in mid-table, Gooners will be hoping that the boss has a firm idea of what’s gone wrong and, thus, how to fix it. While some want Arsene shown the door, the author of the Wenger Code still has hope that the three-time Premier League winner will turn things around.

You can buy the book directly for just £13.99 from GCR Books here. Or from Amazon here.

Or for your chance to WIN a copy, click on the Contact tab above and send me the answer to this simple question…

Arsene Wenger’s 350th league win for Arsenal came against which team?

a) Norwich City

b) Everton

c) West Ham

Good luck.

Update: Congratulations to Paul Jeater from Essex, who correctly answered that Arsene’s 350th league win came against West Ham (this season, at Upton Park).

“Just what was going on inside William Gallas’s head?”

A very pertinent question, and one of many addressed in Arsenal: The French Connection – a new hardback published this month by GCR Books Ltd.

The French Connection does what it says on la boîte, taking a look at the influence on Arsenal’s squad from across the Channel since Monsieur Arsene Wenger arrived in the autumn of 1996.

The opening chapters offer context by meandering through sections of Arsenal’s earlier history according to the author, Fred Atkins’, will. He juxtaposes the days of a brutish, unwelcoming Woolwich Arsenal with the more precious and sophisticated teams that Wenger has nurtured in recent times, before providing a chronological account of Arsenal’s foreign signings over the decades.

A pleasant and easy read, it devotes 40 pages to the man himself – Wenger, that is – in a section certain to divide any fans who place themselves in the (somewhat odd) polar camps of “AKB” or “binbags”. The author’s own view on the manager couldn’t be clearer, as he eulogises:

“Even describing him as a genius is to sell him short… Wenger is exceptional multiple ways. As a teacher, linguist, artist, diplomat, mentor, economist, architect and more.”

If you have any vehemently anti-Arsene mates, maybe buy them this book for Christmas for a laugh.

A personal work, it is not light on opinion, often touching on enough of a polemical slant to happily betray the author’s views. It recounts a smattering of anecdotes, and is co-devoted to the author’s grandmother – the daughter of a cartridge inspector at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. Enough eyebrow-raising facts are included to entertain, although, to pick on one example, the assertion that Stanley Kubrick was a Gooner has previously been denied in other quarters.

The bulk of the copy, as one might expect from the title, is dedicated to French players that have represented the Gunners during Wenger’s reign to date. With a chapter named after each, no fewer than 23 footballers are examined by the author. While one expects to see Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira et cetera, the likes of David Grondin and Gilles Sunu are also included – and are in some ways more interesting and entertaining to a geeky, Arsenal mind already saturated by reflections on the big guns. Note, however, that the chapter on Grondin is not even two pages in length.

As well as being a personal book, this is very much a fan’s book, and includes plugs for the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust, Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association, and Fanshare at the back. Written by a fan for the fans, and now YOU, dear fan, can get your paws on a copy…

To buy the book for £14.99 straight from GCR, click here. For Amazon, click here.

Or for your chance to WIN a copy, click on the Contact tab above and send me the answer to this simple question:

Which of David Grondin’s former clubs shares its name with a 1990s indie-electronica band?


Update: well done to David Messer from Suffolk, who won a free copy of the book by correctly answering “Saint Etienne”.

FACT: for the first 50 or so years at Highbury, the North Bank was sometimes known as the “Laundry End” due to a steam laundry that was located on Gillespie Road.

FACT: the 1999 flick Plunkett And Macleane starring Robert Carlyle features two characters called Dixon and Winterburn.

FACT: During its time as Arsenal’s home, Highbury was also used as a venue on a handful of occasions for games of baseball, cricket, hockey, rugby – and of course the famous Cooper-Ali boxing fight.

These fact-tastic facts, Reader, can be found by opening just one page-spread of the new version of the Arsenal Miscellany, published by Vision Sports.

The little hardback book is a compact compilation of a range of Arsenal related trivia and will even fit inside a large jacket pocket during bitter long winter-time trips to away games oop north.

Or if you’re too embarrassed to be seen with a book on awaydays, it makes for ideal bed-time or bog-time reading.

And now YOU can win a FREE copy of the book, right here on G4L. Simply answer this easy question:

Arsenal have lifted the Charity Shield a dozen times, but on one of these occasions it was shared with the opposition. Who did Arsenal share the Charity Shield with? Was it:

a) Sheffield Wednesday
b) Preston North End
c) T*ttenham

Click on the “contact” tab above and send over your answers. The lucky winner will be announced on 16th November.


(Alternatively, you can buy the book direct from its publishers here)

Update: well done to Mr John Pickford from London, who correctly answered c). Arsenal shared the charidee shield with that lot up the road in 1991, after the Gunners won the league by losing only one game all season.