“Arsene Wenger: 50 Defining Fixtures” – Advanced taster

My good friend Layth Yousif gave up the day job to chase his dream and become a full-time writer. He now regularly features in the Islington Gazette, the Standard. the Huffington Post and the Gooner  Fanzine, amongst others. Before the month is out however he will be a publishing his second book “Arsene Wenger: 50 Defining Fixtures” is out on the 28th of August and is available to pre-order here

Layth is having a book launch at Piebury Corner Saturday August 16 from midday. Follow him on twitter @laythy29

Arsenal v Aston Villa (H) 19th August 2006

A new dawn
A new dawn

The opening game of any season is significant but this match against Aston Villa whilst being important was also a hugely symbolic moment in the history of Arsene Wenger’s tenure – not to mention the annals of the long and illustrious history of the Arsenal Football Club. For the game marked the first competitive match at the newly built Emirates Stadium and the commencement of The Emirates era.

The club had decided at the end of the previous decade that evocative, atmospheric, homely Highbury with a capacity of 38,000 was too small to match the boards and Wenger’s ambitions to make Arsenal into a domestic, European and global powerhouse.  Arsenal and Wenger had to learn to balance budgets more than ever as funds were diverted to building the £390million project which took 123 weeks to build and finished on time and within budget. It was an incredibly bold step to take and one the visionaries within the club and Wenger himself should be lauded for.

On scedule and on budget
On scedule and on budget

As Wenger proudly said on the eve of this game: “The new stadium project provoked a lot of discussions and debate at board level. We spoke about how far we could go, how unpredictable it would be, how risky it was for the club. Can we put the club in danger for this? So when it finally happened, it was a bit of a dream turning into a reality. You couldn’t really believe it.”

“”I’m not a guy who looks back too much. You have to survive and deal with the challenge you have taken. You know that in the history of the club, that will be an important moment where the club moves forward. Some clubs that still have to do it will suffer later. For us it was vital. The landscape of English football has changed in the last 10 years. Today, we could not survive being at Highbury anymore.”

The stadium was to be initially labelled ‘Ashburton Grove’ before Emirates airline bought the naming rights for 15 years in a sponsorship deal which included an eight year shirt deal that was to be worth £100 million in total. The money was a godsend to the cash strapped Gunners at the time even if many hardcore fans still refuse to call the new ground anything other than ‘Ashburton Grove’, or more simply ‘The Grove’.

The stadium’s first game was actually on July 22nd 2006 when it played host to Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial match between Arsenal and Ajax Amsterdam. The match would see Arsenal triumph 2-1 with Ajax’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar credited with scoring the first ever goal in the Emirates Stadium. The first Arsenal goal netted at the Emirates was scored predictably enough by Thierry Henry. (Gunners fans still hold Giles Grimandi in eternal esteem for chopping down Edgar Davids as he shaped to score – thus forever denying an ex-Spurs man the chance of striking the first goal in the new ground.)

Nice one Gilles
Nice one Gilles

At a capacity of 60.355, the Emirates stands as the third biggest stadium in England, after Wembley and Old Trafford.

And every one of the crowd assembled on the day of the Villa game sang Arsene Wenger’s name in praise of the miracles he had worked for their beloved club – on and off the pitch.

Layth’s book “Arsene Wenger: 50 Defining Fixtures” will be published on August 28 and is available to pre-order here

Layth is having a book launch at Piebury Corner Saturday August 16 from midday. Follow him on twitter @laythy29

Congratulations Layth it promises to be a superb read! Dave.



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