Propelling their club to the giddy heights of fourth place

Well done, it’s an inanimate object. Photograph: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images


Happy birthday, Arsène Wenger. The sophisticated French footballing pioneer has turned 69 and can reflect on a life well lived. Surfing into England from Japan on a tidal wave of almost total indifference to manage Arsenal in 1996, Wenger was, early doors at least, treated as a mild curiosity with his weird and wacky ways. When it became apparent that he knew exactly what he was doing, other managers quickly began copying his modus operandi. Before too long, players at most Premier League clubs had been banned from eating fry-ups for breakfast, encouraged to cut down on the fags and in some cases even asked not to guzzle down more than 10 pints of electric soup each at their weekly Tuesday afternoon sessions down the local drinker.

It could be argued that without the trail blazed by Wenger, the Premier League he left behind at the end of last season would never have become The Greatest League in the World (™), what with the preponderance of exotic managers, a breed treated with deep mistrust back in the days when the former Arsenal boss became only the fourth proper “foreign” to be appointed to such an exalted role. On Monday two of those who followed his path go toe to toe at the Emirates, when his old side entertain Leicester City as they attempt to win their 10th consecutive game in all competitions.

Having taken up the unenviable task of stepping into Wenger’s hand-stitched size nines, Unai Emery appears to be making a decent fist of rebooting the club. After announcing his decision to step down at Paris Saint-Germain last season, he told one interviewer who asked him what he was missing as a coach was “making my masterpieces, real masterpieces and making them my own”. While victory over a fairly “meh” Leicester side could be considered more absent-minded maths copy doodle than Sistine Chapel or Banksy Balloon Girl shredding-itself-at-auction-in-Sothebys, it’s all part of a gradual process that Arsenal fans hope could once again propel their club to the giddy heights of fourth place and Big Cup qualification come season’s end. On the night of their former manager’s birthday, some think victory at home against Claude Puel’s side could be a formality, but the more pragmatic among them [Don’t – Fiver Ed] have been around the block long enough [You’re (a bit) better than this – Fiver Ed] to know it is unlikely to be [Seriously, don’t – Fiver Ed] a piece of cake [You’re fired – Fiver Ed].


“My mother wanted us to leave, absolutely, but still the club said no. Then I started to cry. It upset the secretary so much that finally they said: ‘OK, I’ll do it just for this little kid’” – Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic gets his chat on with Paolo Bandini to recall how his tears as a baby helped his family flee war in Bosnia.

Bandini’s hair, though. Photograph: Daniele Badolato – Juventus FC/Getty Images

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