by Layth Yousif
There is a right way to approach this book and wrong way. I know if I were choosing fifty matches, some would be deliberately obtuse. To be fair, that is the wrong way; I make no bones about that and equally, it is fair to say that Layth Yousif has approached this properly, without my idiosyncratic tendencies.
Of course the title wins are here, so to cup finals and semi-final victories. Defeats as well, it would have been strange were match number fifty omitted.
But not the matches which have scarred him most. This is an Arsenal book and no mention of the corruption which brought Marseilles stained glory is made. Ironically, that era has probably influenced Wenger more than any Arsenal match.
Nonetheless Yousif has chosen a wide breadth of matches. Each fixture is dealt with individually, with well-written author’s commentary interspersed with quotes from Arsène and match reports to give opinion and more importantly for the match, context. It’s a formula which works well, giving pause for breath to recall the era yourself.
As Yousif says in his introduction, “Every game means something special to somebody“. His aim is to capture the essence of what Arsenal has been during Wenger’s era, what is was to what is has become via where it has been. To a large extent, once you get beyond the trio of criteria I mentioned in the opening paragraph, you have a free rein.
The Invincibles will invariably feature although surprisingly the 6 – 1 victory over Southampton in which two Arsenal players scored hat-tricks in the same game for the first time in decades, isn’t included. Unfortunately there is no avoiding match 50. Actually there is, the defeat at Old Trafford is deemed to be one of the fifty. It’s a glaring omission in my view; that defeat defined not just the season but signalled the moment when a squad was dismantled too quickly. That defined the following decade as much as investing millions in a new home.
Don’t for one minute believe this is simply a parade of victories. Nothing of the sort, plenty of defeats are remembered although not the home to Blackburn in 1997 which was the catalyst for the Premier League title win that season. To me that is a pivotal match, one where the squad took charge and resolved matters. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t included; Wenger had little influence in that moment beyond letting it happen as a good manager should.
The book reflects a rollercoaster ride, with the Highbury-era accounting for 33 of the 50 games featured. I have no issue with that, I don’t think anyone can given the paucity of achievements since then. Indeed no matches from the calendar year 2009 are mentioned at all; perhaps the United Champions League semi-final was too traumatic, as the defeats to Chelsea during Mourinho’s first reign in West London. It all ends happily though at Wembley with the FA Cup triumph rounding off the book.
If you sense that the review is in disagreement with the choices of the author, you are right but that is what he wants. Agreement in totality struck him as unlikely and his aim to prompt discussion has been achieved. And in a book, can you ask for anything more?
You can buy Arsene Wenger: Fifty Defining Fixtures here