Arsenal – The French Connection

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Arsenal – The French Connection
How The Arsenal Became l’Arsenal
By Fred Atkins
GCR Books – £10.99

As the title, Arsenal – The French Connection – How The Arsenal Became l’Arsenal suggests, the ultimate theme of this book centre’s on the French influence and its collection of (sometimes sublime) players at the club. Although it does shed much light on the Premiership itself, as well as that of the French league, especially early on.

Thus making for a read that is both interesting and at times rather entertaining, albeit it questionably suffused in opinion. Already in the book’s Introduction, Gilles Grimandi writes: ”Glenn Hoddle, whose English is only on nodding terms with the basic rules of grammer spent four seasons at Monaco and somehow managed not to pick up any French at all, while Chris Waddle was at least willing to try during his time with Marseilles but still sounded like a GCSE student who’d been forced to study a language against his will as he stumbled his way through the oral exam.”

Isn’t this the name of the English game? None of its footballers are exactly renowned for having studied Einstein let alone a foreign language. And aren’t most football pundits, writers and Millwall fans more opinionated than most?
Hence the aforementioned description, as no matter how much one delves into the twenty-eight chapters of this very readable book – the final of which is simply entitled ‘Thierry Henry’ – one is relentlessly informed by way an amusing and oft provocative persuasion.

Drenched in the irony of the odd spelling mistake and quirk of English, Fred Atkins (himself a journalist who has covered the Tour de France, the Ashes and the Cricket World Cup, as well as a former student at the University of Strasbourg, where Arsène Wenger studied economics), has herein written a book that no doubt every Arsenal and serious football fan would relish reading. Not only does it include in-depth analysis of Wenger and every French player to have played for the club, it also asks how a stereotypically English team with a reputation for being boring and brutal, everntually evolved into a team that was a by-word for French va-va voom.

Personally, I believe – and I don’t think I am alone here – Arsenal have evolved into the Barcelona of England, which Atkins touches on in the final chapter: ”Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team from that season played a style of football never attempted before. It was relentless, high-speed and intricate all at once. Only players of the highest technical ability could cope with this so-called ”tika taka’ style. The passing had to be in exactly the right place all the time and the movement off the ball telepathic […]. Arsenal’s football during this era was a decent imitation and it was certainly wonderful to watch, but the players were never quite on the same level as Barcelona and physically they were significantly weaker. Guardiola had somehow managed to combine the Total Football of Rinus Michaels’ Dutch side, with the will to win and physicality of pre-Milton Keynes Wimbledon.”

Throughout said chapter, Atkins also asks to what degree Henry, who infamously left the club for Barcelona, was the greatest striker on earth. And if that isn’t enough to wet the curiosity, the book invariably touches on whether or not Nicolas Anelka was a sulking, money-obsessed mercenary or a misunderstood prodigy not really cut out for fame let alone loyalty; Emmanuel Petit’s disposition with regards a life pockmarked by tragedy; as well as the assorted demons inside William Gallases head – plus a whole lot more French induced business besides.

In fact, Wenger’s entire policy of ”If I give you a good wine, you will see how it tastes and after you ask where it comes from,” is all here. Every which way – from start to finish. Which in all, makes for a read that is as challenging as it is undeniably answerable to Arsenal’s current position in the Premiership.

David Marx

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