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October 2016
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Arsène Wenger: the beautiful pragmatist

By Tony Attwood

“Wenger can signal power shift to Arsenal – but only by ending his Mourinho hoodoo”  screamed the Telegraph this week.  They and the rest of the press will follow this up with a piece that says “Five things we learned this weekend.”

It is all nonsense of course, based on the childish vision that a single event can give us an insight into the way the world – or even just the football bit of the world – actually works.

But this week a refreshingly different vision of football in general and Arsène Wenger in particular appeared, first in Eight by Eight and then in the Guardian and then in hundreds of other places, called Arsène Wenger, the Martyr of Islington.

Refreshingly different, but, for me, not right.

Now I am not going to do a literary critique of the piece, for there is so much discussion of the article now available that pretty much most things about it that can be said have been said.  I want to draw forward a different perspective; one that I have been mulling over for years, one that may one day actually appear as the book, “Arsène Wenger: the beautiful pragmatist.”  At least that is what the title currently says, but it tends to change as time goes by.

Just in case you missed it, here is a tiny flavour of the Eight by Eight article…

‘This is Wenger: Pope Arsène, recently the Martyr of Islington, the Premier League’s last magical perfectionist, last crusading aesthete, last Catholic.”  The Catholic theme runs through the piece along with many others, and what struck me reading it was that in my own sketches for my book on  Arsène Wenger I don’t touch on his Catholicism at all.  Time for a rethink?

In the end I think not, and I’ll try and explain why I am holding on to my approach.

What I have are seven headings that seem between them to mark out the essence of Arsène Wenger.  In some versions of the notes for the book there are six, sometimes eight, once even ten, but this year it has been seven.  Who knows where it will end up – if I ever finish the book.

1.  The point is he doesn’t do instant, he has a theory.

This is where I agree with the Martyr of Islington approach: Arsène Wenger he doesn’t respond to sudden issues with sudden new visions and insights.  He has an over riding vision; a theory.

Now this is what annoys journalists day by day and week by day, as it means Arsène doesn’t play their game.  In fact he doesn’t play the English game either for theories are very much out of fashion in England, and indeed they have been for much of my life.

In the 1950s anyone with a theory was described as “clever clever” – a typically meaningless phrase used by those who felt that common sense rules the day and is basically all you need.

Common sense however is gibberish, and leaves us no better than a bunch of shaggy haired enthusiasts howling at the sky during an eclipse of the sun sometime around 2000BC.  It seeks to explain without explanation, it ignores science and evidence.  It says the world is what you see, and quite obviously, it isn’t.

The world, the real world of gravity, burst water pipes, caterpillers into butterflies, racial hatred, love, society, left handedness… all these things are several hundred thousand billion more, are understood only through theory.  Try explaining the journey of the sun across the sky without a theory and it’s pretty hard to come up with anything that has much to do with the truth.

But theories of course can be wrong.  The Marxist inevitability of history and the view of kings as divine are both interesting theories, but both appear to be wrong when measured, as all theories must be in the end, against the facts, the observations and the experiments.

And that is the great thing about theories, they can be tested.  Arsène has his theories, and like all good scientists he tweaks them step by step like a scientific experiment.  Which is why so many fans get rather annoyed by him.  If something doesn’t work, he doesn’t suddenly learn five things from this weekend’s matches, like a rampant journalist on heat.  Rather he tweaks his vision, to see what happens if he does it this way, or that.

This is why we get good runs and bad runs with Arsène.  Why the great advocate of attacking football can give us four 0-0 games in a row as he tweaks the system, and modifies the theory just a little and attempts to get the club back on track.  Why we can have a fairly modest first half of the second double season, followed by the period of utter bliss and joy which gave us cup and league.  Why the opening part of this season can lead to wild and woolly claims about it being the worst start to a season in 25 years, and yet lead to this rather enjoyable new year.

He has a vision, but like all good visionaries he tweaks it according to reality.  No he is not at heart a Catholic, he is at heart a scientist.

2.  Relationship with journalits

Most of the time we learn Arsène Wenger’s views through journalists, and of course we see and hear highly edited and often deliberately mis-edited versions of what he says.  True, we do hear him speak without editing in the live pre and post-match interviews but these are quick snapshots which it is fairly clear he does as his duty, not out of a love for this type of communication nor out of a desire to put across his vision to the people.

When I have heard him speak without the mediation of journalists – for example at the club’s AGM, we get a different Arsène – speaking without notes, clearly, passionately and with an organised agenda in his head.  He has a style which is transfixing and energising.

But this whole business of communication most of the time via journalists is coloured by the incident of 1 October 1996, when a veritable horde of journalists gathered on the steps of Highbury demanding to talk with the manager whose job officially began that day.  They were there to shout, “what do you have to say about the rumours Mr Wenger?”

Arsène, acting the advice of the directors, went out and called back, “what rumours?” and this went on for a while before the journalists wandered away.

The rumours were of the most foul and repulsive kind, and of course no shred of evidence has ever appeared to support them.  By asking the journalists to be specific about the claim, Arsène Wenger outmaneuvered the Neanderthals on Day One, for if they had mentioned a single word of the story he could have sued for slander – and of course they had no proof.  By refusing to speak, he outwitted them, and they knew it.

But journalists have allies, and they were quick to encourage Man U fans to invent songs about the allegations – songs that even turned up on CDs that were on Man U websites.  The abject failure of Man U to do anything about the chants and songs was the starting point of the break between the clubs and between Arsène and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Of course Man U argued  that they could not control crowd chanting, but Arsenal showed them how, with the successful demand that anti-semitic references in anti-Tottenham chants were stopped.

Arsène Wenger made a reference back to his first day on the job in November 2010 when the newspapers defeated on 1 October 1996 started to run stories about an alleged affair that Arsène was having.  Asked about it, Arsène commented that he had been the subject of slander and libel of the most appalling kind from his first day in the job, and this was small scale stuff compared to much of what had been said.  He would, he suggested, not dignify the nonsense with a reply, any more than he had the earlier rubbish.

Overall journalists by and large don’t like him, not just because of these incidents but because he is palpably so much cleverer than them.  Add that to the fact that he doesn’t respond to today’s sudden issues and you have the issue.  He takes the broader view, the more general perspective, and he’s a hell of a lot brighter than they are.

3.  Arsène has preferences which are simply his preferences, ideals which are his ideals.

He loves quick passing attacking football and thinks it is better than long ball defensive football.  That is a view.  Football played Arsène’s way is aesthetically better than football played the Mourinho way, at least according to Arsène.

Aesthetics is a difficult topic to argue, and the theoretical base of it is tortured in the extreme, but that doesn’t stop commentators on the arts from having such points of view; so why not in football?

One can argue and say that functionality is always superior to aesthetics; better to win with a long ball game than to draw beautifully.  I think Arsène’s reply would always be, “But it is better still to win beautifully.”

And the fact is that we have seen, in the Arsène years, football played in ways that I don’t think we have seen before, football that is certainly more exciting than anything produced by Arsenal before.

4.  But he is pragmatic; it is part of his theory. He is realist with visions.

Aestheticism alone is not enough; one also needs pragmatism, and it is in the combination of the two factors that Arsène Wenger has his ultimate strength.

Between 13 November 2008 and 28 February 2009 Arsenal played 15 league games.   In only three of these games did Arsenal score more than one goal.  So had Arsène Wenger totally lost the ability to create a team that could attack?  Had he changed his ideals?

No, he was being pragmatic.  In late October and early November 2008 Arsenal won just one match in five.  One was a 4-4 draw with Tottenham and three were defeats to Stoke, Villa and Man City – the last by 3-0.

Clearly things were not right, so Arsène started to put them right, not with wholesale changes of personnel, but with gradual step by step changes in the playing style.  He started to removing all gun-ho attacking options, and focussing on defence.  Starting on 30 November 2008 Arsenal went 20 matches undefeated – which turned the season around.

But that run included five consecutive draws – four of which were 0-0 draws.  Indeed it was worse than that because in the midst of those 0-0 league draws was also a 0-0 cup draw at Cardiff.

As a result of this dramatic change around, and this new vision of the defence Arsenal made it to fourth in the league, nine points ahead of the fifth team.  Some would have demanded much more, but through this pragmatism Arsène Wenger stopped the club drifting down to mid-table and missing out on the vital Champions League money.

It is sequences and stories like this that those who try to knock Arsène Wenger ignore.  They don’t fit with the mad professor telling his teams to attack attack attack – but the results of the winter and spring 2008/9 are as valid a part of Arsène at Arsenal as twice winning the double.

Arsène Wenger is the master tactician, not just in terms of playing Man City and Man U away as we have seen in 2014/15 but in terms of reworking the entire team from basics and rebuilding the tactics of the team when things are not working.

It is through this approach that the absolute legacy of Arsène Wenger has been achieved: the constant appearance in the Champions League while the Stadium was built and paid for.  Arsène, required to curtail his buying, did not wreck the club for one final hurrah before leaving, as was the approach of Sir Alex Ferguson at Man U.  He found ways of delivering what the club needed – not just for now, but for the future, so that long after he has gone, and long after I and my fellow season ticket holders have gone, Arsenal as a leading club, survives.

Arsenal has been in the top league since 1919, far longer than any other team, and Arsène Wenger has set it on a course that will allow it to stay there for many more years to come because of Stadium Wenger.

Thus, yes I would go along with Arsène as “the Premier League’s last magical perfectionist” – sometimes.  I’d also call him the Premier League’s perfect pragmatist.  He is both.  That is his magic.

5.  Arsène has patterns of activity, as do we all.  He is not thrown off track by set backs but he is always flexible.

Why should he be thrown off course?  He has an amazing record of cup wins, doubles and the Unbeaten Season, not to mention the minor matter of not getting the club in unpayable debt.

One of his greatest virtues – which is often portrayed as his greatest failing – is that he does not deviate from his vision through upsets.  Journalists do their pathetic “5 things we learned” and the aaa throw all sorts of nonsense at him (my personal favourite this season was the aaa site that said, “Giroud’s not playing today” and all the little aaa beings crept under the door mat and said, “thank God for that”).  But none of that affects him, because he has a broader plan, and his broader plans work.

He is in short far more flexible than he is given credit for.  One only has to go back over the way he has re-worked the squad when something has gone wrong, and then triumphed once again, to know what he does.

6.  Arsène sees the broad picture

One of the biggest problems with trying to critique Arsène is that he knows so much more than we do.  He played Ramsey out wide during Ramsey’s developmental stage, so that Ramsey would become a better player all round and so that should he need to, he could use the undoubted talents of Ramsey on the right, allowing someone else to play in the centre.  Who else would have done that?

That someone else was of course Ozil, and had Ozil never arrived Ramsey could have moved into the centre and stayed there, having simply developed as a player from his trip to the right.

But now we have a better player who can play in either position.

Arsène thus doesn’t rush into the transfer market to buy whoever is available at whatever price is demanded.  He knows players develop, players become available, players change.  And he knows who he really wants.

For a long time he was doing all this on a very restricted budget, but with money available he is doing it faster.  But all that ability to find youngsters and bring them to Arsenal has not disappeared.  So whereas in the past we might have been looking at the youngsters like Gnabry, Zelalem, Akpom, Bellerin, Chambers, Crowley, Hayden, Maitland-Niles, Ormonde-Ottewill, Toral etc, and hoping that one or two would come to the rescue, this time we are hoping that somehow they get enough chances in the squad to keep them at the club.

But we have no worry about Arsène in this situation because…

7.  He adjusts

In point of fact I could have called these notes, “The four ages of Arsène” because that is what we have seen of Arsène at Arsenal.

The First Age

Here the job was simple: rebuild the club.  Arsenal in 1994/5 sacked their manager half way through the season and we ended the season 11th.  The three previous years (the last three complete years of Graham’s reign), we came 4th, 10th, 4th.

In Rioch’s one year in charge Bergkamp and Platt were added to the squad and we came 5th.

So to pull that together, the club that Arsène took over had, in the years before his arrival, come 4th, 10th, 4th, 11th, 5th.

His opening response was to buy Patrick Vieira before he even got here.  His first two seasons gave us 3rd and the Double.

Arsène also did something about the attack.  In the Rioch year we scored 49 in the league, six fewer than Wimbledon.  In his first two years Arsène took us up to 62 and then 68.

As a sub-plot he started a side-line in miracles.  He bought Nic Anelka for around £250,000 and sold him after 50 league starts for £25 million or thereabouts. It is said that the money paid for the new training centre that was designed by… Arsène Wenger.

It was all going so well, but then…

The Second Age

In November 2000 Arsenal submitted planning applications for the new stadium.

On 4 May 2003, after Arsenal had lost out on the title to Man U, the press were full of statements that Arsenal’s season had been a failure.  On Radio London Arsène said, “Of course we want to win the league, but I think the most difficult thing for the club is to be consistent and we have been remarkably consistent. We lose the league to a team who spends 50% more money every year – last year they bought a player for £30m pounds when they lost the championship. They will do the same next year and we have done miracles just to fight with them.”

That team was Man U and the reference to the lack of money related to the fact that Man U had a stadium twice the size of Arsenal’s and as profile that allowed them to generate sums from their worldwide marketing scheme that Arsenal could hardly even imagine.

But it quickly turned out that Man U was not our only problem.

In July 2003 Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea for £140m and announced that he had done so to break the Arsenal/Man U duopoly.  He then made a bid for Thierry Henry which was turned down, irrespective of the price.

In February 2004 it was announced that the financing of the new stadium was now in place and the development would begin.

On 15 May 2004 Arsenal completed the whole league season unbeaten.

And herein lies the twist at the very heart of  Arsène’s legacy.  He had just achieved the impossible at the moment the world was blown upside down (or to use David Dein’s memorable phrase, “Abramovich has parked his Russian tanks on our lawn and is firing £50 notes at us.”)

Arsenal had just done the impossible, and were all set to build a stadium to allow them to challenge Man U, when along had popped Abramovich to make life even harder.  It was going to be tough enough to take on Man U with their marketing money, but to take on the unlimited wealth of Chelsea suddenly looked impossible.   (The fact that just four years after that Man City moved into the frame with even more money made the whole situation even more impossible).

A lesser man than Arsène Wenger would have said at that point, “I’ve done my bit; two doubles and an unbeaten season, time to move on.”  But he didn’t.  He stayed.

The Third Age

There was a plan in place to see Arsenal through the difficult years of the building and financing of the stadium – but it was a plan that involved taking on Man U.   The arrival of Chelsea and then Man C made the whole plan unviable.  It was the utter and absolute genius of Arsène Wenger, plus his extraordinary flexibility, that allowed Arsenal to get through the Third Age era staying in the top four, and so financing their way into a faster than expected return to being able to deal with the transfer market.

But of course, developments such as those seen at Man City and Chelsea don’t just affect the amount of money around.  They affected players’ and agents’ attitudes towards transfers.  Players want to win things, so they look for clubs that could win things and only three clubs (Man U, Chelsea and Man C) had that sort of wealth.

And strange things started to happen with referees.   Arsène Wenger is not a man to comment much on refereeing – although he does let go occasionally, as he has done with the quality of the refereeing in the game against Man U at the end of the 49 unbeaten run.

Once again a lesser man – indeed 99.99% of managers – would have moved on – as Arsène could have done, his reputation in tact.  But he stayed to fight the new assaults of money and its effects.

The plan to develop young talent was there from the start – as the purchase of Anelka showed, and this approach doubled and re-doubled during Arsène’s reign.  Probably the high point was the beating of Sheffield Utd 6-0 in 2008.  Carlos Vela aged 19 got a hat trick.  The team for that game (and do remember this was 2008) still makes very interesting reading even today:

Fabianski, Hoyte, Djourou, Song (Lansbury 70), Gibbs, Randall, Ramsey, Merida (Coquelin 71), Wilshere, Bendtner (Simpson 71), Vela.

But of course others were watching.  Barcelona began its notorious approaches to bring in young children in breach of Fifa and Uefa laws – a move which finally got them a one year ban from making transfers.  Real Madrid spread money around in ways that made the transfer of Anelka look ordinary.  Everyone was trying to get in on the act.  Clubs without the money of Chelsea regularly spoke of “doing an Arsenal” – which meant, finding the brilliant youngsters.

But just as Arsenal were taking Sheffield Utd apart, on 15 September 2008 Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection.  The biggest crash in the history of capitalism had begun.

The 4th Age

The effect of the financial crash, caused totally by utterly irresponsible activity by bankers, liberated from political control through the Big Bang process of 1986, threw Arsenal’s refinancing plans up in the air.

All they could do was continue with the plan to sell the naming rights to the new stadium, along with anything else that it was possible to sell, plus some of the best players, and use that money to make early payments on the stadium debt.   That would reduce the interest payable and give Arsenal a period of limited income.  The job of the manager was to keep the club in the top four and so keep the income rolling.  Which he did.

Despite the endless sniping by the media, who had never forgiven him for October 1996, and the insanity of the attacks by the aaa, Arsène delivered, and on 10 July 2014 Arsenal announced the end of the old era and start of the new, the 4th Age, with the signing of Alexis Sanchez.


Thus Arsène for me is not a martyr nor someone who guides himself primarily via an understanding of Catholicism although he is undoubtedly a believer (he has after all had an audience or two with the pope).  He is a pragmatist with ideals who believes in the beautiful game.

There’s much more to say, but maybe that’s enough for now.

If you have been, thanks for reading.

Untold Arsenal

55 comments to Arsène Wenger: the beautiful pragmatist

  • esxste

    Excellent read, Thanks Tony. Because there is so much history, its too easy to lose the context of individual details – like the barren years. 9 years without a trophy was the cry – without context; without considering the “why?”

    May Arsène grace the halls of Arsenal for many seasons to come.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Arsène Wenger, the beautiful pragmatist written by Tony Attwood, the amazing word smith*.

    Amazing read Tony.

    * “word smith” is a translation of an expression used in my native language that expresses admiration for the way someone has written a book, text, article…. hats off Tony!

    Most Untolders know and realise the context but it is oh so good to see it written down from time to time.

  • Steve

    Interesting and a good read. However despite the truth in most, or maybe all, you say I think what Arsene Wenger had that few if any other manager has had was the trust of The Club. Yes, he could have walked away head held high at all the points you mention but likewise many clubs would have possibly shown him the door at other points.

    This takes absolutely nothing away from his achievements. Just gives it a little perspective.

  • Max Kerr

    What is even more extraordinary with regard to Champions’ League qualification: in a recent interview, AW explained that during the years of fiscal restraint, the Board required that the team should qualify three years out of five – and he managed (sic) to negotiate qualification every single year (and all the others!).

    Sadly, one wonders whether his achievements will ever be lauded as much as they deserve.

  • Antique Gunmen

    All said about the past. Now, we want to see Arsene runs his 4th age with titles, shall we?

  • Odiri Eboh

    What Arsenal is today is a testament to the achievements and sacrifices of both Wenger and the board. I fell in love with Arsenal in 1999 and since then win or lose i’ve never lost faith in Le prof..his idea not just on football but about everything is surprising and refreshing…I have never seen a manager with his kind of knowledge about things..coming to building teams, bcos of him..I dreamt of playing for just Arsenal..I dream, breathe and live the red side of North London.

  • Vaz

    How many theories do you need to start the season with at least 6 strong defenders and a class defensive midfielder. He has no excuses but incompetence, and Mourhino would have at least challenged for the title with the same squad.

  • Tony Attwood

    Antique Gunman, if Arsene does deliver more titles it will be because of his ability AND the fact that he kept the club together during the building phase.

    Other clubs fell apart, and took trips into the second or third divisions. Man U, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Tottenham, they’ve all slipped down. Only Arsenal didn’t.

  • Fabbs

    Excellent article, thanks a bunch Tony. At last someone to put the all picture from then to now Arsene’s years!
    The real fans faithful to Arsene do understand the legacy that he’ll leaves for the futur managers that will succeeded him! The doubters don’t realize how lucky Arsenal football club is to have had such a man developping Arsenal a world wide brand. As Gary Neville said it once is “Arsenal is a sleeping giant”!The rise is there, the FA cup win was the star a the new era, if we win it this season, we’ll become the most successful Team ever to have won it! Arsene deserved to finish his contract and deciding if he wants to keep on or not. I wish he could lead us to a CL win, but never forget as well that his reign in Arsenal to bring the legacy that he’ll leaves, have brought him a lot of mental stress over the years, so even he’s still a pragmatic, scientist astute coach, he must be physically drained so the dream to win it might eluding him. Hope I am wrong though…

  • hrishi

    Brilliant article..
    Arsene is a pragmatist, no doubt- but that does not mean he goes out to win each game at any cost. There is pragmatism beyond the Tony Pulis variety. He does what is best for Arsenal- in the long term. Playing good football, developing exciting young players and ushering an era of financial stability- these are not decisions made with just the next game in mind.

    Reading your article and the Guardian one (which was also an enjoyable read), only one word comes to my mind to describe Arsene- classy. And not even his fiercest critics can take that away from him. He truly is a manager like no other. Willing to stay at the ‘club of his life’ even if that meant a period of ‘lesser successes’, Wenger is one of the few long term thinkers in this myopic football world- the Warren Buffet among a horde of hedge fund managers. Mourinho, Van Gaal, Ancelloti or Guardiola can never be that.

  • Anicoll5

    Great read Mr Attwood.

    One light point is while Arsene might not be a martyr there do seem a large mob of angry people determined to crucify him. 🙂

    One heavier comment concerns the financing of the new stadium and the sale of naming rights to the Emirates airline in 2004, at a time when bankers were cool, very cool indeed. In fact so cool were they that were happy to underwrite the cost of the construction. A highly speculative project, the consortium of lenders took months to put the finance together. The original link is here;

    An interesting excerpt from the page listing the source of funding ( as well as a number of the highest profile casualties in the financial crisis that brewed up in 2008) is below’

    ” The Stadium facilities comprise £260 million of senior debt to be provided to Ashburton Properties Limited (“Ashburton Properties”) (the member of the Arsenal Group which owns the Stadium site) by a Stadium facility banking group consisting of the Royal Bank of Scotland PLC, Espirito Santo Investment, The Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Banks PLC, CIT Group Structured Finance (UK) Limited and HSH Nordbank AG with the Royal Bank of Scotland acting as facility agent for the group. Interest on the senior debt will be at a commercial and fully hedged fixed rate over the 14 year term.”

    Certainly four of those named had to be bailed out by their respective taxpayers as ruin approached in 2008. One might ponder no utterly irresponsible bankers in 2004, no Emirates ? 🙁

    Very different financial work after 08. If you have kept an eye on Levy’s protracted shambles at the other end of Seven Sisters Road and John W Henry’s eventual acceptance that LFC could not finance a new stadium then you might very well think so.

  • Al

    Brilliant piece. What a great manager we have in Arsene. I’ve no doubt Arsene has won Arsenal millions of fans the world over by himself.

  • Rich

    Good stuff, Tony. Very good.

    I think an extra element to try tackle in the book would be to take on what I call the ‘contested reality’ of football. It’s a pretty big theme, and one I’m reminded of in most newspaper articles and by every comments section beneath them.

    Take the one in the Guardian this week. Very long, saying all sorts of things, you get to the comments and bam, forward they pour to talk about mediocrity, to ignore the issue of finances entirely, or to claim our finances were just fine all along, or that we chose to spend much less than we could.

    Unfortunately, I’m no whiz on the correct language of logic and argument – (I’m always tempted to talk about premises, but until I go back to the drawing board and learn the topic I have to resist doing so)- but nonetheless it’s clear to me that the way anyone evaluates the last decade of football here, and Wenger and Arsenal’s performance in that time is shaped by their original, erm, premises (couldn’t resist), especially those which relate to finances : so how big a role does money have in determining performance and how much did Arsenal spend/have available?

    It applies even to the uber-morons, even when all they have to say is ‘you wubbish, Wenger bad, 1 trophy 9 years, lol, Mourinho rules’ . We have to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that their conclusions do not arrive fully formed, like a sudden fart, and that some sort of hidden workings took place. We can assume they too have thought about finances et al, even if only to dismiss the topic..

    That is the contested reality for me. I have yet to see a single one of the more fierce and severe critics do so while accepting both the vast importance of money in football, and the real financial situation of Arsenal over the period in question.

    Quite simply it is impossible to do so. Any argument against Wenger and Arsenal is virtually killed when you do. You can still try make it- and you’ll without fail need to look outside our league, to Dortmund or Athletico when you do- but at a stroke it removes well over 90% of the force of any serious criticism. That’s why the critics simply have to ignore the facts.

    Presenting those facts is good in that war against untruth, but I think it may be necessary to go even further. A discussion of how it’s possible for football reality to be so fiercely contested, even though the real facts are freely available would, i think, allow you to go into new territory, and strengthen your authority at every step.

    It would put it right there front and centre : football reality is contested ,folks; I am providing this version of it which I insist is true (which everyone writer does implicitly, remember; so please do turn the scepticism up here, and keep it up when looking elsewhere), and will endeavour to demonstrate is true : I ask you to scrutinise it very deeply, and then to ponder the wider landscape and the alternative narratives put forth in it.

  • Jambug

    Thanks Tony for a brilliant article. For what it’s worth, I find the following the 2 most pertinent paragraphs.

    From, THE THIRD AGE:

    “There was a plan in place to see Arsenal through the difficult years of the building and financing of the stadium – but it was a plan that involved taking on Man U. The arrival of Chelsea and then Man C made the whole plan unviable. It was the utter and absolute genius of Arsène Wenger, plus his extraordinary flexibility, that allowed Arsenal to get through the Third Age era staying in the top four, and so financing their way into a faster than expected return to being able to deal with the transfer market.”

    From, THE 4TH AGE:

    “All they could do was continue with the plan to sell the naming rights to the new stadium, along with anything else that it was possible to sell, plus some of the best players, and use that money to make early payments on the stadium debt. That would reduce the interest payable and give Arsenal a period of limited income. The job of the manager was to keep the club in the top four and so keep the income rolling. Which he did”


    “…….only one word comes to my mind to describe Arsene- classy. And not even his fiercest critics can take that away from him…..”

    Really? You would think you where right, but alas they do it every single day.

    “….He truly is a manager like no other. Willing to stay at the ‘club of his life’ even if that meant a period of ‘lesser successes’.”

    My thoughts exactly.

    Adding to that, what other manager would of made a 24 Million pound plus profit on a player, only to use the money on infrastructure for the ‘long term’ future of the Club rather than to help himself win more trophies (although he did anyway) ‘short term’ by buying players with it?

    -I think that was the day I realised just how much Wenger loved my Football Club.

    -I could see just how committed he was to it’s long term future.

    -It was on that day that I knew my football Club was in the safest of hands.

  • finsbury

    Thanks Tony, great read. I agree with everything above save for the description of Arsene as a scientist.
    I would describe him as a master craftsman.

    What does that mean?

    “I believe the target of anything in life should be to do it so well that it becomes an art.”
    Arsène Wenger

    What is art, what is science?
    The origin of the word Arsenal:

    “early 16th century (denoting a dock for the construction and repair of ships): from French, or from obsolete Italian arzanale, based on Arabic dār-aṣ-ṣinā‘a, from dār ‘house’ + al- ‘(of) the’ + sinā‘a ‘art, industry”

    As in: a house of craft, of science, technology and art. A workshop and or alchemical laboratory.

    Anyone who has read my comments will no that I have no language skills and am certainly no linguist (but am very happy to see Untold show the same affection that I have for the word “Gibberish”, there’s a lot of it about…), but I hope to see the link between that quote of Arsène’s and the very meaning of the word Arsenal in your upcoming book, please! 🙂

  • Rantetta

    Thanks for this superb article, Tony.

    The replies above say much of what I feel about Arsenal and Arsène. I’m glad you named the team that played Sheffield. That team of kids had to be stopped, derided, cheated and injured – in order to stop the Arsenal train from cleaning up everything, inc. dodgy-money in comings.

    We all remember what happened in 2008. Well, I certainly do.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Thanks for a great article on the birthday of Willian Shakespeare another wonderful word-smith. Can I pleast put in a pre-order for the book when you finally finish it?
    I didn’t read the Telegraph article on the Middle two pages of their sport section today. Their headline “Wenger’s reputation on the line in Moutihno showdown”. Pretentious codswollop!

  • finsbury

    These souls that want to crucify people, are they the type who talk to themselves upon other peoples’ blogs? Or to themselves using multiple twitter accounts? Are they enlightened to the degree that they would seek to desecrate te sacred confines of the Temple Mount using their false weights and measures? The specialists in working with special agents, be they hack-dwarfs or a third party facilitator/coach?

  • Pete

    Rich – Ha!

    One of the uber-morons you describe even managed to infiltrate the comments section!

  • apo Armani

    Great article Tony!!

    Put me down for a copy when you finished it – signed copy please 😉

  • apo Armani

    April 23, 2015 at 2:02 pm


  • Brickfields Gunners

    Thanks Tony , a very fine article and I bet it will be a very fine and great book .
    Arsene Wenger not only epitomises all that is good and pure in football , but also the way that one should carry himself in this life.
    I feel proud to be among the many who stood firm and faithful to him and the club ( each, in his own way.) during the ‘barren’ 9 years .
    Like him we believed and we bid our time .Never was it to us the option of swaying like the bullrush with each gust of ill wind .
    We AKBs are here for the long haul , firmly behind Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal.

    This saying shall always remind me of him.

    If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
    Henry David Thoreau

  • Jambug

    Andrew Crawshaw

    Recently there’s been many words written about how Arsenals good run is just down to the fact there’s ‘no pressure’ on.

    Apparently we always do this, you know, go on a good run when it’s all over.

    So that’s how I see it going:

    -We win and it’s a pointless, bloodless victory, only achieved because Chelsea have already won the Championship, and we where out of it.

    -We lose and bingo, Wenger’s useless.

    Cretinus media.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    He should have come with a warning , at his unveiling !

    Don’t underestimate me. I know more than I say, think more than I speak, & notice more than you realize. Brigitte Nicole

  • Jambug


    Do you truly believe Mourhino would of maintained a top 4 finish every year for 9 years on a near ZERO net spend budget?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Six ethics of life
    Before you pray ~ believe
    Before you speak ~ listen
    Before you spend ~ earn
    Before you write ~ think
    Before you quit ~ try
    Before you die ~ live

    There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
    Elie Wiesel]

  • Jerry


    Excellent article highlighting the great work done by Arsene Wenger and putting his years at the club in relation to the larger context of world football.

  • para

    Tony i cannot agree completely with Point 1.

    This is just my view on that point.
    I do think AW has his vision, Arsenal’s vision, but like any good manager he has now found that he has to be able to change things(while not losing sight of the vision), hence more use of his tactical ability, where before he relied solely on his players and their own ability on field because they were that good.

    Because the current team HAD not yet reached the stage where AW could 100% leave them to get on with it, his tactical ability was used a lot more in guiding them along.

    Now though, the players have nearly all reached this stage again where they can be relied upon to master the game on their own.

    All other points spot on for me.

    I would really love to embarrass Chel$ on Sunday, it’s time we started handing out punishments again.

  • para

    I am trying not to mention mou in the same comment where i have mentioned AW.

    Mou would not have managed to keep Arsenal in the CL, and though we may have won a few more cups perhaps, we could also have lost much, be still up to our ears in debt and somewhere between 8-14 in the table.

    Chel$ owner really wishes he had been able to buy Arsenal, hence the style Chel$ are trying to play this season, and even so far as to buying one of our past players to enable that style. It has only been their money that has kept them achieving, but now the playing field is somewhat more level and Arsenal will show again why they are the most feared and BEST club.

  • goonersince72

    Tony –
    Brilliant read from a brilliant writer. Your articles are always insightful and well written but I think you’ve outdone yourself with this illuminating piece on AW. Also, plaudits to Walter, Andrew, Rich, Jambug, finsbury, Brickfields Gunners, Rantetta, et al, who contribute so much to this wonderful site. Since its inception Untold Arsenal has contributed greatly to the fan experience of this wonderful football club. I look forward to a great read every day. My thank’s to all involved.

    “My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.”
    Vladimir Nabokov


    Jambug @ 3:17, You exactly hit the nail on the head. Fucking idiots like Vaz are talking gibberish without any logic to back up what their tiny pea-brains are saying. The odious little Portuguese eye-gorging translator would leave any club like a fucking rat abandoning a sinking ship if he didn’t have unlimited funds to work with. Chelsea’s asshole manager assembles one of the world’s most expensive squads to park the fucking bus. Fat Sam does the very same thing at a fraction of the cost, When Fat Sam and the Hammers beat the little asshole translator at his own game, the Portuguese cry-baby wailed about West Ham’s 16th century style of play. What a MOTHERFUCKING HYPOCRITE. Talk about the pot calling the skillet black, So who is the real special one. Jorge Valdano once described the little Portuguese asshole’s footballing style as “shit on a stick”. If you’re gonna play ugly turgid football why do you need millions of dollars to do so. Vaz saying that Joseito would have done better with our squad proves he is talking out of his very wide used-up asshole, The minute there was no cash to spend the little translator Jose would’ve said adios. Wenger had lots of offers to leave the Arsenal, Big money clubs such as Real Madrid, PSG, A.C. Milan, Barcelona, and Bayern all wanted him at one time or another. He turned them all down. He has always said “When I leave Arsenal, They will be in better shape than when I signed on”. That is integrity, Something the AAA assholes and the little self-proclaimed special one know nothing about.

  • Rantetta

    10 teens on the pitch. Jack, barely out of nappies. Commentators yet to deride the passing game. Arsenal v Sheffield U 2008:

  • Rantetta

    R.I.P. Gary Speed.

  • Jambug


    Perfectly said.

  • Rosicky@Arsenal

    The emergence of Bellerin alone has been a masterstroke from Wenger.Even better than what Mourinio and Ferguson has achieved in there lifetime together.

  • Notoverthehill

    Tony, very well written!

    BUT, pleas, please consider the David Dein and his machinations!

    No further word is required, as you will understand my input.

  • ARSENAL 13

    I watched a program the other day, where their discussion was about the British managers. Or the lack of top British managers.

    Having read this article Tony, Is there a better British manager in the world than Mr Wenger??…..

    Is Mr Wenger the only manager to have shown us what this ‘mythical British steel’ is all about.

  • Menace

    Beautifully captured Tony. Arsene is truly a composer of team systems that deliver movement on grass.

  • Menace

    When I diagnose what the new money clubs are doing – or have been doing, they are trying to become Arsenal clones. Chelsea started by tempting Cole. Squeezed whatever they could from his knowledge & experience at Arsenal. Man City went the whole hog & got every ex Arsenal player & greedy ones too. The clubs have created the same infrastructure & systems but they lack Wengers vision & touch. The wonder of a studious, football mad, super intelligent, honest, dedicated individual that is Arsene Wenger.

  • Mandy Dodd

    I regard this as one of the finest pieces I have read on untold, really says it all.
    Except there may have been further financial restrictions on Wenger we do not and perhaps never will know about. As if dealing,with the restrictions we do know about have not been enough.
    Wenger will not be hard to replace…..he will be impossible to replace, so said the ultimate insider, Mr Dein.

  • goonersince72

    Hey BILL FROM MANHATTAN @6:07 – that was a f**king riot! And every point was on the money, as was jambug.
    PS – I’ll be at the Blind Pig for the FA Cup Final.

  • omgarsenal

    Vaz…sectomy- How many theories do you need to start the season with at least 6 strong defenders and a class defensive midfielder. He has no excuses but incompetence, and Mourhino would have at least challenged for the title with the same squad.

    1)We started with 6 excellent defenders, Bellerin,Debuchy,Gibbs,Per,Koscielny, Monreal,Chambers and added Gabriel as well in January. that’s 7 in August and 8 in January.
    2)We started with Flamini and Arteta, as well as Coquelin, and Ramsey as needed in the defensive midfielder role.
    3)You are the master of incompetence as you cannot either do simple math, recognize a defender or defensive midfielder even if he hit you in the face, nor do you offer ANY proof, being a true aaa of course,for your ludicrous statements.
    4)Mourinho would have left after one season because it is ALL about him. He doesn’t give a whit about the club…just like you!

    I bet you’re slithering back to LeGrove after trying (unsuccessfully) to rankle some UA faithful but like the little fetid turd you are, we know we won’t see you back on this site because you’re a coward and shits like you float back to the sewers you thrive in….adieu!

  • Va Cong

    Arsène Wenger Artist of the Master stroke! Beautiful piece Sir Tony Attwood!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Always pray to have eyes that see the best in people ,
    a heart that forgives the worst ,
    a mind that forgets the bad ,
    and a soul that never loses faith in God .

    The above sounds good and right , but I’ve always followed David Ben Gurion’s saying , “Forgive never forget .”

  • Brickfields Gunners

    A friend sent me this , please spend about 20 minutes of your free time to watch this . This relates to the internet and cyber bullying as well as being made a pawn in ‘the greater scheme of things’.
    Monica Lewinsky – The price of shame .

  • Jambug



    That’s part of why UA is the brilliant Blog it is.

  • Micheal Ram

    One of the longest article but the best article ever in the history of Untold. AW has done that much that Tony need to write everything in ‘relatively’ short. As long as AW still in the club, Tony will eventually run out of space to write about him. No few words to describe this great man. Will continue to surprise us, will continue to amaze us and will continue to serve until he is no more.

  • Kenneth Widmerpool

    Great article Tony, excellent points.

  • IGooner

    This is a beautiful read. 🙂

  • Menace

    April 23, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    Vaz…sectomy- How many theories do you need to start the season with at least 6 strong defenders and a class defensive midfielder. He has no excuses but incompetence, and Mourhino would have at least challenged for the title with the same squad.

    1)We started with 6 excellent defenders, Bellerin,Debuchy,Gibbs,Per,Koscielny, Monreal,Chambers and added Gabriel as well in January. that’s 7 in August and 8 in January.
    2)We started with Flamini and Arteta, as well as Coquelin, and Ramsey as needed in the defensive midfielder role.
    3)You are the master of incompetence as you cannot either do simple math, recognize a defender or defensive midfielder even if he hit you in the face, nor do you offer ANY proof, being a true aaa of course,for your ludicrous statements.
    4)Mourinho would have left after one season because it is ALL about him. He doesn’t give a whit about the club…just like you!

    I bet you’re slithering back to LeGrove after trying (unsuccessfully) to rankle some UA faithful but like the little fetid turd you are, we know we won’t see you back on this site because you’re a coward and shits like you float back to the sewers you thrive in….adieu!

    So good it should be read twice 😉

  • Georgaki-pyrovolitis

    What have you lot done to Vaz?

    A breathtaking, awesome piece Tony……

  • Alex

    And once again the input of Özil is forgotten… The 4th age has started with his arrival, not with sanchez…

  • Passenal

    Fantastic writing, much better than that tripe garbage that was reproduced in the Guardian and received all that undue praise.

  • Oluwatoba

    Good write up Mr. Tony. Further, kindly consider this as a pre order for the book upon release. Thanks

  • Double Canister

    A bit late to the party, but excellent writing Tony.