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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting new angle on familiar story, 9 Oct 2012
This review is from: Arsenal - The French Connection: How the Arsenal Became L'Arsenal (Hardcover)
The book tells the story of the Arsene Wenger era and Arsenal's French legion through the stories of all 24 French Arsenal players , from the arrival of Patrick Vieira and Remi Garde, Wenger's first signings, to the present day and the recent arrival of gay icon Olivier Giroud. On the way it takes the reader through a tour of the triumphs and (more recently) the disappointments of Arsenal's recent history and how a team known for its dour and uncompromising physical nature became synonymous with French flair and elan which has at times enraptured supporters and opponents alike, as well as an emotional brittleness that has become an easy target for the less talented and imaginative (as well as a source of growing frustration to its supporters).

This book is not going to reveal any new sordid truths about life inside the Arsenal dressing room. Other than a foreword from chief scout, former defensive midfielder and cult hero Gilles Grimandi, the author has not had access to any of the players or management, though given the sterile and media-trained nature of most football interviews, this is arguably no bad thing. Instead, the book draws on existing and known sources from England and France (the author uses the widely panned autobiographies of Ashley Cole and Robert Pires as source material so at least you don't have to read them yourself) in order to compile a picture of the each of the players and the events that defined their stay at the club.

However there is more than enough in the public domain which is not widely known for the author to be able to tell some fascinating individuals stories and pick out some common themes in them. For example, the book contrasts the relatively high levels of education amongst the majority of Arsenal's French players against the prevailing attitude within English football of a lack of education being, as the author witheringly notes, "worn as a badge of honour". The book also describes the administrative incompetence of a number of French football clubs in failing to secure the services of some of their best young talent through their failure to complete the most basic of paperwork (which, as the author notes, is ironic given Arsenal's current inability to keep hold of its own stars).

The book manages to avoid a lot of clichés - yes, the likes of Flamini and Anelka were mercenaries and unashamedly so, but rather than simply condemn this as somehow symptomatic of a game gone to the dogs, players and club are seen for what they are - separate, independent entities whose interests coincide for a finite period of time. In this book there are few out and out villains and even fewer heroes (Grimandi excepted). The author expressly states that he's specifically attempted to see all of the individuals covered as rounded, complex (and in Petit's case very complex) human beings.
The book's written by a fan, that much is clear. There are some cheap digs at Tottenham - well, it's what they're there for - and the book takes a fairly robust view on some of the injustices meted out to the club in recent years, particularly at the hands of Manchester United. Those who subscribe to the view of Barcelona as a shining beacon of aesthetic beauty and high moral standing will also have their views challenged in this book. He is, however, dispassionate enough to avoid turning the book into a hagiography; the issue of Henry's reputation as a cheat is covered in some detail, as are the origins and consequences of Petit's victim complex, and supporters of other clubs should not be put off by what is an engaging story even to the disinterested.

I read the book in one sitting and was entertained throughout. Arsenal fans will find plenty in here to sustain interest, whether it be some well put together retellings of the lives of the players that they have cheered on (the chapters on Petit, Flamini and Gallas are particularly revealing), the dry, irreverent style or simply the opportunity to relive the most successful and entertaining period in the club's history in the company of someone who can view those familiar events a little differently.
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