Harry Potter and the Manager who Changed English Football

Jonny Singer takes an alternative look at Arsene Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal…

Between my fifth and six birthdays, two events took place that would shape not only my childhood, but also my teenage years and much of my adult life to this point.

On October 1 1996, Arsene Wenger began his 20 years as Arsenal manager, sparking the most successful period in the club’s history.

About nine months later, just as Wenger prepared for his first full season in charge, in which a young boy would become a regular in the West Stand at Highbury and watch Dennis Bergkamp make sport into poetry on the way to a double, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published.

Two decades on, and it seems fitting to examine the legacy of Wenger at Arsenal. Several brilliant articles have been written on it, notably Joe Bernstein in the Mail and Barney Ronay in the Guardian, while John Cross’ book on the Wenger years is a pretty complete analysis.

But none of them, as far as I can tell, have touched on the key aspect of the legacy debate – the Albus Dumbledore problem (more on that later). Continue reading

20 Years of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal

TFN editor Hugo Greenhalgh returns to reflect on Arsène  Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal and share a couple of personal memories…

“Ready or not, here I come…”

So sang Lauryn Hill on The Fugees’ “Ready or Not”, the U.K. Number 1 single on September 22 1996 – the day Arsène Wenger was unveiled as Arsenal manager. English football probably wasn’t ready for Wenger, whose methods and managerial style have had an unrivalled influence on the game over the past 20 years, in a career that is unlikely to ever be repeated.

A look at some of the other Premiership managers at the time of his arrival reveals much about the football landscape. Ron Atkinson, David Pleat, Jim Smith…many of Wenger’s rivals were of the old school and he came in as an unknown outsider. Not only did his nationality mark him out as different, his last job had been at Grampus Eight in Japan, a role he’d taken to challenge himself and to experience a change of culture.  Continue reading

Gabriel Paulista – Arsenal’s Silent Tornado from Brazil

The Samba Series returns as Arseblog columnist Tim Stillman profiles Arsenal’s latest Brazilian, Gabriel Paulista…

The career path of Gabriel Armando de Abreu has genuflected the man’s qualities as a defender. Understated, unfussy yet impressive. A quiet and humble family man, Gabriel has spent much of his career under the radar. His rise over the last two years has been stratospheric, but you would never guess from the rugged centre half’s almost expressionless demeanour. Somebody at Arsenal once told me that Wenger was finished with signing Brazilian players. He had had his fingers burned with the likes of André Santos and Denilson. Culturally, countless Brazilians have failed to come to terms with the rigorousness of European sporting culture.

In Brazil, if you’re two hours late, you’re early. This has led to many a Brazilian player on the wrong side of his manager for his time keeping where training is concerned. Shortly after the signing of Gabriel, Wenger told the press that natives of São Paulo, like Gabriel, tend to be more conscientious than their carioca cousins in Rio de Janeiro. It was a slightly disappointing generalisation on the manager’s part, not least when one considers that Santos, Julio Baptista and Denilson, three of his most acute Brazilian disappointments, are paulistas. But within that unintentional cultural stereotype, Wenger’s impression of Gabriel was clear.

For all of the famed stories of bleary eyed Brazilians showing up at training a few pounds overweight, wearing shades to conceal bloodshot eyes, there are a plethora of Brazilian players that have demonstrated great humility and professionalism. Continue reading

Football narratives: a departure

TFN’s Alex Stewart returns with a column on football’s dreaded “narrative”…

Football is confusing, isn’t it? I mean, take Arsenal. Arsenal are shit, aren’t they? We all know that. They’ve a porous defence, weak full-backs who can’t head the ball, injury problems galore, and Arsene Wenger is so confused about who to buy he’s actually taking suggestions by text. Sure, they’re probably top six this season, but only because everyone else is so woeful. And Manchester City are fantastic, right? They’ve qualified for the next round of the Champions League at long last, they’ve got the best striker in the Premier League and they’ve just bought another really, really good one. Vincent Kompany is more than a footballer, he’s a heroic saviour of all that is good and decent in this world, as well as being an elegant, handsome man to boot.

And then Arsenal go and beat City at home and suddenly, aren’t City shit? The Vincent Kompany rare error is becoming the Pepe Reina rare error, according to someone on Twitter. Forget the strikers: City are a one-man team who always lose when Yaya is away on duty with his national side. They have no plan B and no way of rousing themselves from their indolent, slightly apathetic superiority complex and when pushed, often fall over. And aren’t Arsenal amazing? I mean, Alexis Sanchez is the best player in the league, and Wenger was absolutely right to stick with Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud and bring in David Ospina; the man is a genius. And Santi’s Cazorla’s not lazy; he’s just been saving himself for the big occasions. Continue reading

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gunning for World Cup place


After an impressive individual display in Munich, Nathan Carr considers Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s role in the England team ahead of the World Cup…

Arsenal left the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night empty-handed after fighting back from a goal down to clinch a draw. But it wasn’t enough as the aggregate score of 3-1 sent Bayern through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

As the Arsenal players trudged off the pitch at the final whistle, one individual could hold his head high: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He was outstanding on the night, acting as the only real attacking threat for Arsenal throughout.

The midfielder has only recently returned from a lengthy period of time out on the side-lines which makes his performance even more impressive. With Roy Hodgson carefully monitoring players in varying competitions right up until he announces England’s World Cup squad, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s exploits against Bayern will certainly do him no harm at all. That game may well have just cemented his place in England’s squad to travel to Brazil. Continue reading

Alan Pardew’s Moments of Madness

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Piers Barber looks back at five moments of Alan Pardew madness…

Alan Pardew has won both the Premier League Manager of the Season and LMA Manager of the Year awards, has twice led teams to Premier League promotion and is surpassed only by Arsene Wenger as the longest serving manager in the Premier League.

Yet the current Newcastle United boss still seems determined to prove that he has a few wires loose, with his behaviour on the touchline repeatedly proving irresponsible, and often nasty. A succession of crazy moments reached a bizarre culmination on Saturday, when he was sent to the stands for headbutting Hull City’s David Meyler.

Pardew has already been fined £100,000 for his actions, and can expect more punishment in the coming days from the FA. His case is unlikely to be helped by the fact he has considerable previous in the field of managerial indiscretions. Here are five of his worst moments of madness that are coming increasingly close to defining his managerial career. Continue reading

Arsenal: Beware the Arshavinication of Mesut Özil


Footbalternative‘s Jonny Singer warns of how a certain German sophisticate could go the way of his Russian predecessor if Arsenal fans don’t learn to love his languid style of play…

If you’ve only followed Arsenal in the press this season you may be under the impression that Mesut Özil’s arrival is the sole reason for their current success.

Of course you’d be wildly wrong. There are at least five Gunners who have performed better than the German playmaker this season: Aaron Ramsey, Per Mertersacker, Kieran Gibbs, Olivier Giroud, and Mathieu Flamini have all been excellent. Bacary Sagna, Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny also hold decent claims to have been better than the former Real Madrid star throughout the Autumn and early Winter..

In fact, Özil has been ok. He’s drifted in and out of games, given the ball away far too often, and, as in last night’s 2-0 defeat of Marseille, missed chances, but that’s fine.

What we’re seeing is a player adapting to a league, playing at only around 70-80% of his potential. In six months or a year’s time he may well be the best player in the Arsenal team, or even the league, but that can’t be expected straight away. Continue reading