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Report of AST meeting with Philippe Auclair

Posted Wednesday 16th January 2013

Aaron (Reid) is a young Arsenal Supporters' Trust member who has been supporting Arsenal, in his words,  'since before he was born'. Having overcome his fear of Gunnersaurus, Aaron now hopes to report on sporting events and in particular Arsenal. He kindly agreed to write up this Monday's AST meeting with Philippe Auclair:

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As a cold winter's day drew to a close and with the January transfer window jarred open, many Arsenal Supporters' Trust members battled through the bitter conditions to make it to the monthly meeting. As a guest of the Trust, the AST welcomed French football journalist Philippe Auclair to the meeting. Philippe discussed a wide and varying range of topics stretching from the release of his new Thierry Henry biography 'Lonely at the Top' to the price of football in Europe.

The following is a report of how the meeting progressed. Statements in bold are topics of discussion, particularly in the first three quarters reflecting questions put to Philippe.

Why a book on Thierry Henry... (Philippe)

After the success of his Eric Cantona biography 'The Rebel Who Would Be King' Auclair told the story of how he had to choose who to base his next biography around. "Thierry Henry?" The only player who has won it all. "The Premier League, The FA Cup, The Champions League, La Liga, The World Cup" to name but a few, Thierry Henry is the complete footballer. "Consistently achieving having played since the age of 14" but Philippe thought it surprising that no book on Henry had already been written, saying "when you read about the top ten players of all time, you see Pele, Maradona, Messi. But never Thierry Henry. It's quite amazing".

When did Philippe start work on the book...

Jokingly, Philippe described the time it took him to write the book as "three years of pain" and how work started on the biography when Henry was applying his trade at Barcelona. Acknowledging many helpful associates such as the Barcelona press officer at the time, Auclair told of how at no point has Henry or any of his management tried to prevent Philippe writing the book.

Who did Philippe speak to...

Having stayed away from Henry himself, as well as his current agent Darren Dein, Auclair explained of how he gathered information about the career and personality of Thierry by speaking to former team mates and managers of the former Arsenal number 14.

The Title of the Book...

The title of the book 'Lonely at the Top' also known well as a song by Randy Newman, was chosen due to its reflection of Thierry's life and how he has learned "not to trust" anyone in football after the "deal that wasn't a deal with Real Madrid" and how "Thierry has very few friends in the football world" citing "three football related people were at his wedding, and two were not close friends". Auclair raised the point of how Henry was not shy to this fact and he is fully aware of this situation.

Has Henry read the book?...

Although he has a copy of the book, Auclair stated how he did not know whether Thierry had read the book although he knew people close to him have done so.

Will Henry return to Arsenal as a player on January 31st...

"In January? No. I have not heard anything. I have spoken to Gerrard Houllier, the general manager of the New York Red Bulls and he has had no formal communication from Arsène or Arsenal" was the straight forward answer given by Philippe, after the inevitable question was raised about the future of Thierry Henry. Auclair pointed out how, since he had been playing from the age of 14, Thierry had never had a real holiday and that he was now taking the chance to do so "Thierry is in Brazil on holiday, for the first time I believe" as well as how "He has recently had a child" proved the point of how the chances of Henry's return as a player for a third stint was very unlikely.

Will Henry return to Arsenal in a more senior role...

Even though the decision would prove quite popular amongst fans, Auclair believed that Henry was not cut out for a role as a manager or coach at Arsenal due to his "big ego" and "prickly personality, not responding well to criticism". Although, on the other hand Auclair was quick to praise Henry's ability to judge a player after only "a few minutes of watching him" and how he was "brilliant at analysis". Auclair exclaimed on how Henry had the attributes to return to Arsenal as a Chief Scout. However,  a Thierry Henry return to Arsenal could also possibly be as an Ambassador, especially after seeing him meet with Arsenal shareholder, Alisher Usmanov over the last few months.

Henry and Usmanov...

Eluding to the fact that Thierry Henry was pictured meeting with Alisher Usmanov at his private estate in Moscow, Auclair described the meeting as "intriguing" stating how Usmanov seemed to be building an interesting network with the help of Thierry, Darren Dein and of course his father David Dein.

Theo Walcott...

Auclair spoke of Walcott's similarities to Henry in the fact that Thierry famously moved from Left Wing to play up front, similar to how Theo Walcott is trying to do now. Auclair illustrated how Arsenal would have to adapt their current system in order to accompany Walcott playing up front as currently there is "at least 25-30 yards between the Attacking Midfielder and the Striker". Overall Auclair believed that Walcott should be play on the wing rather than up front as he lacks the strength required to be the only striker in a team.

Arsenal in general

Current Tactics...

A bold statement of "Every fan can name the formation of team before kick off" from Philippe as he detailed some of the problems with the current Arsenal tactics employed by Arsène Wenger. Saying "You wouldn't be able to tell me the Chelsea team the morning of the game" he went on to sate how Arsenal had lost their element of surprise by deciding upon the "4-1-2-2-1" or the "4-1-1-1-3" helped the opposition adapt to the way Arsenal play and allow them to be more successful during games against the Gunners.

Transfers...

To this dismay of many in attendance Philippe stated "Arsenal were not close to any deals" and after speaking with agents and fellow journalists, he seemed to be quite clear with this conclusion. The transfer of David Villa from Barcelona was quoted as being "no way" after Barcelona would not let him leave half way through the season. Other names mentioned such as Wanyama were also discarded. When questioned about the possible acquisition of Yann M'Vila, Auclair replied that although the player controlled the game where France "thrashed" England 2-1 at Wembley alongside Nasri and Gorcuff, Auclair explain how M'Vila had "lost his way" and had a "terrible attitude, making him a nightmare for managers".

On the topic of transfers, Auclair also discussed how Juan Mata nearly became an Arsenal player even mentioning that Mata himself "believed he was an Arsenal player" when Auclair spoke to him before his move to England.

Auclair was also puzzled at the form of Gervinho who he described as "instrumental in helping Lille win Ligue 1" as well as having "a great tactical brain".

Contrary to popular belief, Auclair challenged the notion that Arsène Wenger would not spend big money on a transfer. Giving two examples inf Thierry Henry and Sylvain Wiltord who would both have cost £30 million in the current climate based on football inflation worked out in the Transfer Price Index on Tomkins Times.

Arsène Wenger...

Philippe spoke with high regard when discussing Arsène Wenger and it was clear to everyone in attendance the respect that Auclair had for the Arsenal Manager. When questioned about whether Arsène would leave Arsenal in the summer or at the end of his contact, Auclair stated that although he could not speak for Wenger, he believed that if Arsène felt after a period of self reflection that he was no longer succeeding as Arsenal manager he would consider leaving Arsenal completely. Auclair hinted that this maybe in the summer if Arsenal were not to qualify for the Champions League.

The only other reason Auclair gave for Arsène Wenger to leave Arsenal was to be if he felt that he was no longer fit enough to manage the team. Although this may be the case, Auclair rapidly declared Arsène as "A young 63" and therefore felt this would not be the case for a while yet.

Arsène Wenger's replacement...

Auclair, like many Arsenal, fans made the suggestion of Josep Guardiola taking over from Arsène Wenger when he leaves Arsenal. However, he was keen to reiterate the point that Guardiola's time at Barcelona may not give a true reflection as to what he is like as a manager. Reasons for this statement included how 'Pep' would not have "Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Tio Vilanova and La Masia at his next club". As well as those points raised above Auclair also commented on how Guardiola's transfer record at the Camp Nou wasn't the greatest.

Borussia Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp was another name mentioned to Auclair by AST members, although the possibility of him becoming Arsenal manager after the exit of Wenger was dismissed after Auclair said "He would never leave Dortmund". Other possible suggestions given by Auclair as to who could be Wenger's replacement included Wigan manager Roberto Martinez and Borussia Mönchengladbach manager Lucien Favre.

More importantly however, one key point raised by Auclair was that he had serious doubts about who would be given the responsibility of hiring the next Arsenal manager and highly doubted the skill-set of the current Arsenal board to do so.

Leadership within the squad...

Although highlighting the fact that Thomas Vermaelen may not be the greatest captain Arsenal has ever had, Auclair explained how he felt Arsenal needed leaders all over the pitch. Saying "Arteta? Wilshere? Szczesny? - who else" emphasising the fact that he felt Arsenal required more leaders on the pitch as well as in the dressing room.

Contracts...

There is no hiding from the fact that Arsenal need to sign up key players before the last year of their contracts, however Auclair pointed out some of the poor decisions to hand out contracts to "not great" players before they had 18 months left on their current deal. Auclair then went on to mention how he felt Arsenal's biggest contract failure in recent times was failing to secure an extension to the contract of Gilberto Silva.

The Board...

"Its like a Western Film" was the way in which Auclair described the current Arsenal board. Not knowing who was going to "Draw their weapon first" when describing the relationship between Alisher Usmanov and Stan Kroenke. Auclair also added how the problems at the club stretch further than the first XI and into the structure and ambition of the Owner and Boardroom.

Football In General

The Cost of Football...

The argument of the Manchester City fans is a "pathetic argument" as far as Auclair is concerned. Feeling that he was the "devils advocate" he gave examples of the 'cheap' pricing in other countries, for example in Germany, "It's great that they have 4,000 fans paying €5 per game, but what about the 40,000 fans paying €170,  both to watch Bayern Munich."Speaking about the fans of Manchester City,  Auclair discussed how the pricing of such games wouldn't have to be so extreme if clubs like Arsenal didn't have to raise such great funds to compete with teams with wealthy owners who spend money on the club.

AST Round Up  (Tim Payton)

After the conclusion of Philippe's very interesting insight into the world of football and Arsenal, Tim Payton began to discuss the following points on behalf of the AST:

Away Ticketing...

The AST are hoping that away fans at the Emirates Stadium (and all away fans) will be charged a set price next season, unlike this season where the price varies on different categories and the away fans charged accordingly. This will be of great benefit to Arsenal fans who are increasingly paying very high prices at all away games they attend. The AST is attending a meeting with other Supporter Trusts and the Premier League to take this forward.

Dynamic Pricing and cup games at category C...

This season with the exception of the Capital One Cup, Arsenal have designated all cup games in Category B or A. This is to make sure over the cost of 26 games, that matchday ticket prices equate to the price charged for Season Tickets. However, for next season, the AST has urged the club to introduce dynamic pricing for cup games based on who Arsenal are drawn against. Therefore, for example, there will be a different price for a game against Brighton or Swansea compared to a match against Liverpool.