Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"So Paddy Got Up - an Arsenal Anthology": a Review.

Returning home after Christmas, I opened my mailbox to find a wonderful surprise awaiting me – a copy of 'So Paddy Got Up', the Arsenal anthology edited by Andrew Mangan of How my brother had managed to be one of the few people to snag a hard-copy, I don’t know, but it was, to quote Arseblog’s famous slogan, ‘fuckin excellent’ to discover that he had.

The first thing to say about the book is that it looks great. Everything from the book’s typeset to its overall design concept is well done. If you’re going to shell out the extra money for a hard-copy, it's well worth it in this instance.

But the real gold is found inside. Arseblog’s main writer, Andrew Mangan, has managed to gather together a cast of thousands (well, 26), who all opine on an Arsenal-related subject close to their heart. Within this number are both bloggers and professional journalists, and when I first heard of this project, I admit to being sceptical. Would bloggers, when faced with producing content for a book, rise to the challenge? Would they all talk about the same thing (Arsenal are so great, etc., etc.)? Would the quality be uneven?

Thankfully the answers to these questions are: yes, no, and not really. Yes, some of the entries aren’t quite as good as others, but the overall quality is very high, and the book is ultimately a great read.

There are too many chapters to discuss them all in detail, so I’ll just bring up a few personal highlights.

Andrew Mangan’s chapter on how Arseblog started is fascinating – almost like reading how Bruce Wayne became Batman. Linked to this are the excellent entries by Tom Clark of Arseblog and James McNicholas (Gunnerblog), who give a wider overview of the evolution of the online Arsenal community. Arsenal probably have more bloggers than any other premier league side, and both pieces hint at how this occurred.

Being a bit of a history buff , I loved the chapters by Philippe Auclair (France Football), Tim Stillman (Arseblog/Vital Arsenal) and David Faber (Goonerholic), which chronicle the club’s past from its inception to the George Graham era. Auclair, in particular, makes a convincing case that Herbert Chapman was Arsenal’s greatest manager, and provides a range of anecdotes about his life which I hadn’t heard previously.

The chapters by Amy Lawrence (The Guardian/Observer) and Chris Harris (an Arsenal employee) also touch a subject close to my heart – the under-appreciated tenure of George Graham as Arsenal manager.
Yes, people always talk about 1989, but people also seem to think that most of his tenure was composed of turgid 1-0 wins and back-handers in brown envelopes. Yes, he took a bung, but he was also one of the greatest managers in Arsenal’s history. He’s the last Arsenal manager to win a European trophy (lest we forget), and Harris’s chapter also gives some long overdue credit to his marvellous 1990/1991 side, which lost only one game that year. They were the team that made me fall in love with Arsenal – I wish some of our current lot had their fighting spirit.

The pieces by Kieron O’Connor (The Swiss Ramble), Stuart Stratford (A Cultured Left Foot) and Tim Payton (The AST) are perhaps the most troubling in the book. They give an overall sense of how far Arsenal has come as a club since 1991 – both financially and in terms of our overall standing in European and international football. But they also hint at some worrying factors – our position among Europe’s elite is not a given; our finances are not, perhaps, as strong as many think; and we have a confusing ownership structure, with a majority shareholder who is not involved in the club as much as he should be. While criticism
of the club can often be excessive within the blogger-sphere, these pieces choose their words carefully, and are a definite food for thought about how the club is currently being managed from top-to-bottom.

But I think the two chapters I enjoyed the most were by Michael Cox (Zonal Marking) and Tim Clark (Arse 2 Mouse).

Clark’s chapter somehow takes one of the most traumatic events in Arsenal’s history – our Carling Cup humiliation against Birmingham last February – and turns it into a genuinely hilarious story. Being a fan of any club involves a fair degree of gallow’s humour, and Clark’s chapter is a full of it. I literally LOL'd.

Being a tactics geek, I enjoyed Cox’s chapter on ‘Arsene Wenger and Tactics’ immensely. In a very short space – only about 10 pages or so – he manages to analyse many of the crucial fault-lines of Wenger’s reign through the prism of tactics. For example, is it a coincidence that we stopped winning trophies in about 2005-2006, when we moved from being a team full of fast, direct players, who played on the counter-attack, to one with much less pace, replete with individuals who would almost always look for a pass rather than shoot? I’m looking at you, Hleb. The move from a very direct 4-4-2 to a slower 4-2-3-1 has perhaps
been our undoing, as much as the players who have filled the positions in our new formation. Similarly, Cox wonders whether a greater degree of tactical pragmatism by Wenger would have seen more trophies during his time at Arsenal. Those times we have been pragmatic, and moved away from the beautiful game, have actually seen a great deal of success – the 2006 CL run, the 2005 FA Cup Final – whereas a lack of tactical adaptation to our opponents has seen us lose several finals to weaker opponents, who have changed their approach to successfully stifle us. I’m thinking not only of Birmingham in the CC, but Galatasary in the UEFA Cup and even Liverpool in the 2001 FA Cup final. Reading it, you can’t help but think that some form of monstrous hybrid of Wenger’s overall philosophy and vision, combined with George Graham’s tactical pragmatism, could have seen Arsenal win a lot more trophies in the last decade.

The criticisms I have of the book are slight. For instance, its organization is little haphazard. Being a little OCD, I would have preferred chapters to have been grouped together thematically, but others may find the scatter-gun approach charming. Secondly, I would actually have preferred a few less writers, but with longer chapters. I could have easily read an entire book by Cox on Arsenal, but I appreciate that Arseblogger probably wanted to involve as many people as possible in this project.

Ultimately, though, these are minor concerns. Overall, I must congratulate Arseblogger on a superb achievement. To put together a project like this must have been daunting, but, make no mistake, if you are an Arsenal fan, I can almost guarantee that you will enjoy this book. And, to paraphrase the song after which it is entitled, you’ll probably want to read it ‘over and over and over again’.


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