The Wenger Code – will it survive the age of the oligarch?


The Wenger Code –
will it survive the age of the oligarch?
By Richard Evans
GCR Books Ltd – £16.99

Near the outset of Chapter Eighteen (‘Beat Man City But Job Not Done’) of this altogether intriguing and idiosyncratic book, The Wenger Code – will it survive the age of the oligarch?; sports journalist and former foreign correspondent, Richard Evans, emphatically writes: ‘’Oh logic, where art thou?’’

A statement, which upon reflection, could just as easily have replaced the sub-title, if not have been the book’s actual title itself. For if there’s one thing Evans – an Arsenal supporter for over sixty years – knows how to do, it’s put his point across in such a way that is almost (totally) impossible to disagree with.

Which leads me to ponder upon the issue that perhaps Richard Evans (unlike David Cameron) ought to have considered venturing into politics?

That aside, apart from the fact that the book’s prime protagonist Arsene Wenger: ‘’lives, breathes and sleeps Arsenal and gives every impression of feeling the responsibility of a worried parent dealing in a world of wayward children who seem to have lost all concept and value’’ (‘Wenger and Transfers’); it really is nigh impossible to contend such Premiership Football logic as that found in Chapter Two (‘It Could Have Been So Different’): ‘’While Abramovic was spending hundreds of millions of pounds on established internationals, soon to be followed by the Middle East owners of Manchester City buying even bigger and more expensive stars, Wenger was moulding his team into a sleek and often scintillating football unit that was as easy on the eye as any in Europe. On a par, indeed, with Barcelona.’’

All of which is true. Chelsea have had more managers than the ghastly Katie Price has had ‘’international’’ husbands, while not only do Man City appear to be heading down the same preposterous path, but their penchant for ever ‘’more expensive stars’’ won’t necessarily guarantee them any silverware.

And yes, Arsenal is on a par with Barcelona. Always has been.

That said, Evans doesn’t shy away from the flipside of the argument, as he continues to write: ‘’So how come six seasons have gone by without a trophy? Perhaps Oliver Kay in the Times put it best. ‘’Every Arsenal setback can be put down to an isolated incident – a missed chance, a poor refereeing decision, a defensive error […]. Annoyingly, facts keep getting in the way. Paul Doyle in the Guardian came up with a wonderfully comprehensive list of statistics that looked at the 2010-2011 season from a purely factual stand point and, after reading it, one wondered how Arsenal hadn’t won the Premiership outright. Look at these figures:

Highest average possession by any team: Arsenal 60%
Most completed passes: Arsenal 444; Chelsea 423
Highest percentage of short passes completed: Arsenal 92.3%, Man City 90.3
Best shooting accuracy: Arsenal 47.5%
Player with best shooting accuracy: Nasri 65.4%
Best scoring average v minutes on pitch: Van Persie every 98.2 minutes; Berbatov 110.5

Unhappily there was another stat that hit at the root of Arsenal’s problems – that stat about conceding goals from set pieces. Arsenal were top of this list with 53%.’’

The above is what accounts for The Wenger Code being so very readable – although for many an Arsenal fan, perhaps not quite as enjoyable as might be the case. Although this has a lot more to do with what’s taking place on the pitch as opposed to what’s written in-between these 201 pages.

I really do like the fact that Evans substantiates his more than considered writing with stats’n’facts. As at the end of the day, maths doesn’t lie – two and two will invariably always be four. Just like Arsene Wenger will always be a great football manager.

All of which accounts for this being a terrific book; which just happens to have been written from the wide-open goalmouth of the heart.

David Marx


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