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.
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
c) West Ham
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).