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July 2021

Arsenal: the French Connection

How The Arsenal Became l’Arsenal by Fred Atkins

Review by Tony Attwood

If one describes a book as “strange” that is normally a preface to criticising the volume and suggesting that if only the publishers had asked this particular reviewer to write the book, a much better volume would have been produced.

But in calling “Arsenal – The French Connection” strange I don’t mean a criticism, it is more a feeling that yes this is a really good book to read but oh, how I wish that in certain parts there had been more.  But then of course maybe there will be a second volume on the way – which I guess is a compliment.

So my comment is not to say that as an author of books on Arsenal I could have done any better, I just wish that Fred Atkins had gone further, and further again.  And if he hasn’t I hope he considers it.

The book covers the French link with Arsenal from 1886 (the foundation of the club as Royal Arsenal) through to contemporary players like Koscielny, Squillaci and Coquelin.

As is my habit with non-fiction works these days, I flipped around in the book, rather than reading it in sequence.   There is for example a chapter which contained a fair amount on Herbert Chapman’s signing of Gerrit Keizer, a goalkeeper who played the first 12 games of the 1930/31 season and then never played for Arsenal again and that is where I started.

I was interested because last season I wrote an article in the Arsenal programme about this man and his strange life (only I spelled the name Keyser – maybe I was wrong) and I am currently working on a series on Chapman, and trying to understand his policy on goal keepers is getting close to keeping me awake at night.  It seems to have been the great man’s blind spot.

So I consider myself a bit of an expert on Keyser / Keizer, and I have to say the book covers his life well.    But with Remi Garde and Gilles Grimandi I wanted more – because I wanted to know about their work in football after Arsenal.

And although there is some, by and large it is not there, even though Grimandi writes the intro to the book.  But to be fair that is not what the book is about.  It is a record of French players in Arsenal colours, not a set of insights concerning the players themselves or their life outside Arsenal.

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Actually that is not totally true because the Robert Pires chapter does take in his life beyond Arsenal, but it doesn’t bring to life Robert’s second book, which I believe is not yet available in English.  (I even had to text Walter from France, to get a translation of the title – which shows you where my linguistic skills are).

And I felt that Francis Coquelin could have got more inclusion too – I remember watching him in a knock about pre-season game in Austria, in the days when Mr Wenger was allowed to choose his own pre-season training without having to take the team off to Greenland or Fiji or where ever the money men dictate.   His (Coquelin’s not Wenger’s) gait was extraordinary, and his style was only just this side of eccentric – and yet it worked so well.  As I said at the time to anyone who would listen (which I think, beyond my cat, was no one) this guy is one that is really going to make it.

But we only get a little of Coquelin, and no real flavour of the young man and what the future might hold in store.

And yet, and yet, this is nevertheless a book to have. 23 French players are investigated at different levels.  From Cygan to Henry, from Pires to Diarra, from Sunu to Koscielny, they are all covered, and unless you really are involved in a detailed analysis of the French influence in Arsenal yourself, you are bound to find out a lot you didn’t know.

So Arsenal, the French Connection is now on my shelf along with about a dozen other books that I use as reference material as I write, and if you really want some interesting insights, and a record of the men who were part of the French Revolution at Arsenal, then here it is, all in one volume.

If you want to know how Remi Garde is doing in his job as manager at Lyon, then you will still have to drop over to the regular Arsenal History Blog, but if you want to know about Remi’s playing career and how he came to be the first signing of Arsene Wenger, then this is the volume you need.

I’d have written it differently – but then all authors say that.  That’s why by and large we are such a pain in the neck.

Arsenal – The French Connection by Fred Atkins is available from GCR Books Ltd at


7 comments to Arsenal: the French Connection

  • Matt Clarke

    It does sound interesting, but I am soory for you that it has left you wanting so much more.

    The title piqued my interest because the last time I watched Arsenal live was against a France XI. It was at Highbury in (or around) 1984 and we won 2-0. Pele ran on to the pitch at half-time to a big cheer.

    Anyway, it’s good that the French like football.

  • nicky

    It was inevitable that once Arsenal appointed Arsene Wenger as manager, there would be a broadening of horizons from which to recruit future stars, with a particular source being Arsene’s homeland. After all, he had followed his profession both in Europe and in the Far East.
    But well before Arsene’s arrival, the world had become a much smaller place, by virtue of vastly improved air travel. This, coupled with the after-effects of WW2 when there was worldwide immigration and emigration.
    In Britain, its Empire and Commonwealth had sent its sons to fight for the Motherland and many had remained as de facto citizens after peace was restored.
    In pre-war British football, black players were virtually unknown but now, with total integration, the skills of all
    are welcomed, regardless of colour or creed.
    The advent of satellite TV has meant that watching the proficiency of overseas footballers is now freely available
    and this, coupled with a global scouting system (such as Arsenal’s) has meant the widest choice of recruitment is now available and will continue to be so.

  • elkieno

    Interesting for sure, I want to buy all the Arsenal books on your shelf tony, can you put them down here in a list?
    Or at least put the names of a few you reccomend?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Nice review ,Tony ,sounds like a good read ,but will await your treatise on the subject .
    AW and his countrymen’s ” conquest ” of the English masses was of course more palatable than that of 1066 AD , but was still met with a lot of hostility and suspicion .
    I think there will be a reversal of fortune soon , what with that great English twit (or tweeterer if you must !),Joey Barton, going to the mainland to wreck mayhem on the French !All the great masters and poets must be turning in their graves (probably burrowing down to China !)
    Just by him leaving, the EPL is a lot safer(and saner ) ! Now if only we can get Shawcross (and his ilk )as well the rabid rodents AAA to follow the lemmings off the cliffs of Dover !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Forgive me Tony ,but the bile within me wants to break out in limerick to piss off ‘Ole Joey ! So here goes !

    There hailed from yonder Huyton ,
    a right and proper twit called Barton .
    Common assault ,affray and bodily harm,
    were quite often his norm ,
    A cowardly fiend he being ,

    Brain stops working as 5 o’clock chimes.Will try to finish it later.Can somebody take a tilt at it ?

  • Eleino – you should have a look at the collection of books on – there is some good stuff there. And if you go to a game at the Emirates, take a look at the book shelf (turn right on entering and stay alongside that wall, you will come to it). A big variety there, including the GCR books.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Just couldn’t leave it well alone Tony -had to try and finish the limerick .Thanks for indulging me.So here goes .

    The Joey Barton Limerick

    There hailed from yonder Huyton ,
    a right and proper twit called Barton .

    Common assault, affray and bodily harm ,
    were quite often his norm .

    A cowardly fiend he being ,
    many an ambush we’d be seeing .

    Ousmane Dabo he’d be head kicking ,
    Morten Pedersen he’d be stomach punching.

    Gervinho he welcomed to the EPL by choking ,
    retaliated, and was sent off for head butting .

    Welcomed to Londonby QPR, Warnock and Chairman Tony ,
    soon resorted to type and left them ashen and stoney .

    Norwich’s Bradley Johnson he attacked ,
    and Warnock was promptly sacked .

    Hughes persisted till season’s end ,
    Hoping his ways he’ll mend .

    Alas riot did he at Tevez ,Augero ,Kompany in the finale,
    banished to Marseille ,to end this woeful tale .

    I’m not sure if this qualifies as a limerick ,but am well sure that Barton’s colourful life would be a good case study for shrinks !
    If the response to this is encouraging ,I follow it up with
    a future post on his expliots on the continent (God save them!)titled “Joey does France “!