Morning all. Mexico’s most important annual festival – the Day of the Dead – is rapidly approaching. A much more fun and profound version of Halloween, Mexicans traditionally celebrate by painting calacas (skulls) on their faces, eating lots of sugary pan de muerto and drinking hot chocolate and mezcal in equal quantities. Photos of dead family and friends are placed on an altar, together with morsels of their favourite food and drink (the idea being that the dead come to visit this world from the afterlife for the night). It is a beautiful way of remembering and honouring those no longer with us.
Over the years, it has also given me a new found respect for the colour orange. I like certain orange things (not least oranges themselves), but I have never been a great fan of the colour. I find it too bright, and too reminiscent of that time when I was a kid and I ate about nine packets of peach Smints and threw up rivers of fluorescent orange vomit. For me, it has always been a poor man’s red. But as we get closer to the festival and the decorations go up, my house has started to fill with orange. Pumpkins, of course, but also flowers and paper bunting. There is even an orange wooden anteater staring at me as I write. It is during these months that I finally accept orange’s place in the world.
Can you tell it’s been a long week? Anyway, I am here to talk about sport. This week, Arsene Wenger’s long-awaited autobiography was released to the public. I haven’t got my hands on it yet, and experienced as I am with the Mexican postal service, I’d be amazed if it arrives before Christmas. But it’s safe to say I haven’t been as excited for the release of a book since the fifth Harry Potter novel came out (what was that three-year wait about, JK?). For better or worse, Wenger was and still is a hugely influential figure in my life. It was his 97-98 double-winning team that made me fall in love with football and, more specifically, with Arsenal. Like everyone else, he and his decision-making frustrated me immensely at times, but my love for the way he sought to play the game, the way he spoke about it, and his intense belief in the quality of his players never waned.
On that note, I thought this week’s Friday Top 5 should look at the most hotly-awaited revelations in the upcoming book. As someone who always fiercely protected the sanctity of the dressing room, there are countless decisions, situations and controversies that happened during his 22-year stay in North London that remain clad in mystery. This is not to say I think Wenger will go into detail on all of these issues – he does not strike me as the kind of guy to use his book as a way to gain a few more million Instagram followers by dishing the dirt on former colleagues and rivals. These are simply the things that I would love most explained to me about his managerial tenure at Arsenal.
Right, there are some crackers in here so let’s get into it.
Manuel Almunia: Why?
In the early Emirates years, Arsene’s young team twice went close to winning the league. In 2007-08, when we led until February until imploding, along with Eduardo’s career, on that fateful day at St. Andrews. Then in 2009-10, spearheaded by the attacking might of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie, we were also right in the title race until the spring. Both teams, however, had a significant weakness: Almunia. Flapping around all over the place, it was clear for all to see that the Spanish goalkeeper was in no way good enough for us. And yet Wenger inexplicably persisted with him as his first choice for the best part of four years. Why, Arsene?
His biggest regret
Despite the many highs, there were number of low points during Wenger’s reign, particularly during the latter half. Michael Owen’s late brace to steal the FA Cup for Liverpool in 2001. The Champions League final in 2006. The aforementioned collapse in 2007-08. The defensive howler late in the 2011 Carling Cup final against Birmingham when we were trying to end our trophy drought. The poor end to the 2015-16 season after Danny Welbeck’s header against Leicester had given us hope of a title push. The ugly protests at the Emirates during his final, ill-fated campaign. I’d love to know what the Frenchman looks back on as his biggest regret.
2011 Transfer Deadline Day
Reeling from the embarrassment of the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, Arsenal launched an unprecedented assault on the transfer market on deadline day. Within 24 hours we had signed five players of vastly contrasting abilities. Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta both went on to captain the team, and both of course continue to exert huge influence at the club. Yossi Benayoun was a useful loan signing from Chelsea. Meanwhile Andre Santos and Park Chu-Young must surely go down as the biggest waste of money ever spent on players under Wenger’s watch. I’d love some insight into what went on, and who was making the decisions, during those crazy few hours that will go down in Arsenal folklore.
Regular readers will know that Rosicky is my favourite Arsenal player ever. He always drove us forward with quick and progressive passing, constant movement and tireless running. But he spent far too long in the treatment room, including a devastating 18-month spell in 2007-08 from which he never truly recovered. Wenger admirably stood by the Czech until the end, always willing to extend his contract in spite of his injury troubles. I’d love to know what he really thinks about his former attacking midfielder. How influential could he have been for us? Does he share my view that a fully-fit Rosicky could have provided the missing ingredient in our failed title charges in the latter half of the noughties?
As I have already touched on, Wenger’s transfer record at Arsenal was inconsistent at best. For every Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Patrick Vieira, there is an Amaury Bischoff, Sebastien Squillaci and Igor Stepanovs. The list of players who never arrived in North London is just as fascinating. From Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and Roberto Carlos, I’d love to know which players came closest to signing for Arsenal and why those deals never came to fruition. And who, for Wenger, would have made the biggest difference to our fortunes?
Right, that’s about all from me today. Have a good weekend everyone, there’ll be a newsletter tomorrow morning as usual and I’ll be back here with more for you all on Monday. Till then.
— What are you most looking forward to finding out in Arsene’s book? Let me know in the comments section below! —