The great Arsene Wenger recently appeared on the BBC radio show ‘Desert Island Discs’.
For those of you unfamiliar with the show, a celebrity guest is interviewed about their life. Along the way they are asked to name eight songs they would like to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island.
We’re not meant to ask how they would play these songs on their desert island, given the presumptive lack of electricity, smartphones, decks and the like. You kind of have to just go with it.
Our most successful ever boss made his choices, and I don’t think you have to delve too deep to find the hidden messages relating to his time at Arsenal.
Here are his songs in the order they were played, along with my psychoanalytical decoding of them:
Could You Be Loved? (Bob Marley and the Wailers)
This is obviously a reference to his arrival at the Marble Halls back in 1996. We had transitioned from the George Graham era by appointing Bruce Rioch for a short-lived stint, only to wake up one morning and discover that our new boss was going to be some French bloke we’d never heard of who had recently been plying his managerial trade in that footballing mecca that is Japan. The London Evening Standard famously greeted the appointment with the headline “Arsene Who?” Arriving to a tidal wave of skepticism, swiftly followed by some scurrilous, untrue and libellous personal attacks mounted by Spuds fans working in the City of London, Arsene must indeed have wondered whether he could ever be loved in this new and hostile environment. Well, there’s no need to wonder any more. Yes, Arsene: you could be loved. And you were.
Imagine (John Lennon)
The key words in this classic are the following:
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one.
When Arsene took up his tenure it would have been hard to imagine the revolution he was about to inspire at Arsenal and in English football in general. And the key to his revolution was that he was prepared to dream: he was not just going to accept the limitations of the hand he’d been dealt. Turn a squad of boozing, brawling bad boys into paragons of broccoli-eating virtue? Why not. Turn “Donkey” Adams into a player who would stride forward and bang home a goal in a league title winning game? Why not. Arsene was a dreamer, his dreams came true… and so did ours.
Avec Le Temps (Leo Ferre)
This French song is all about loss, and how time inevitably brings loss to us all. It is quite clearly a reflection on his later years at Arsenal, when success was harder to come by, some sections of the fan base turned against him and players in whom he had placed such high hopes let him down. It is one of the sadder songs in his selection and indicates that the wounds from his Arsenal departure are still painful.
Your Song (Elton John)
I like this one. It is about the giving of a gift. In Elton’s case, at the time he wrote it he was a struggling artist trying to make it, down on luck and out of dough. The only gift he had to give was the gift of a song:
I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one’s for you.
Arsene’s gift was a way of playing football that was pure lyrical beauty on a pitch. It was something that had never been seen in England before – football as pure art. He gave that gift to us, and boy were we happy.
Evidemment (France Gall)
Another example of Arsene smuggling in his angst by way of a song sung in French. This one has some pretty traumatized sentiments:
There’s like a bitter taste in us
Like a taste of dust in everything
And the anger following us everywhere
There are silences that say a lot
More than all the words we admit
And all these questions that don’t make sense.
At whom could this be aimed? Ivan Gazidis perhaps? Certainly against the Arsenal Board who, he felt, had pressured him to leave before his contract was up – something he vowed never to do. Subsequently he would say that the hostility from the Board was unjustifiable and that his exit was “very hard, very brutal.”
The Wonder of You (Elvis Presley)
On the face of it this tune was chosen to represent Arsene’s Arsenal experience, given that it’s the song played before every home game these days. But, as you and I know, ALL the songs in his selection are about Arsenal, our club being the defining relationship of Arsene’s life. So what is he really saying with this one? To me there’s no doubt. This song is dedicated to Thierry Henry, perhaps the greatest of all Arsene’s signings.
Ne Me Quitte Pas (Jacques Brel)
Another French language misery melody, this time about the singer being dumped. So, this is quite obviously a song about Robin van Persie.
Don’t leave me
I beg you.
Brave Sir Robin was nursed through year after year of injury problems (and was paid handsomely every limping step of the way). He then had one amazing season where he stayed fit and played out of his skin… then immediately decamped for Old Trafford, the ungrateful so-and-so. As the song says:
I offer you pearls of rain
From places in me where there is no rain…
Please don’t leave me.
My Way (Frank Sinatra)
Regrets? He has a few, but then again, too few to mention. I love that Arsene chose this as his final song (although somewhat surprised that he did not opt for its French equivalent, “Je ne regrette rien” by Edith Piaf). It is his metaphorical two fingers up to all the critics and doubters who have plagued him all his career. It’s a triumphant song that takes responsibility for everything he did at Arsenal: the good, the bad, the frustrating, the extraordinary. Yes Arsene, you did it your way. Au revoir, mon ami.