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Book Review - Invincible by Amy Lawrence

"I don't see why it's shocking for me to say we can win the Treble and go through the season unbeaten." So said Arsène Wenger in a post match interview where they had just dispatched Sam Allardyce's Bolton. He said that in the 2002/03 season, which instead of going unbeaten or winning the treble they finished with the FA cup secured in Cardiff. The article title written afterwards was 'Weng taunts rival bosses', so piling pressure onto himself and his players and putting a big target on their back. But what I loved about this quote is he wasn't afraid to admit out loud the potential of the team, and to dream of perfection.Lawrence does a great job in Invincible of charting the arc from Arsenal under George Graham to the aftermath of the unbeaten league team of 2003/04. A gooner at heart, she manages to control her fandom and the book brings the reader along a riveting story toward what Thierry Henry called the 'invisible prize' of going a season unbeaten. Reading from the vantage point of 22 years of Arsène at the helm , I found the following passage most eye opening: "...he seemed to define the club, and embody its character. The idea that someone might come along and turn that on its head was absurd." That 'he' was George Graham, and although Rioch managed the club for a season before the arrival from France via Japan, the team Wenger inherited was firmly a Graham creation, with the exception of one Dutch Master!The book goes over the well worn changes Wenger introduced, from new training ground to removal of mars bars. But the following quote from Arsenal director David Dein was new to me, "That night I remember, almost as if it was a lightning flash, the words appeared in my mind. Arsène for Arsenal. It's going to happen. It's destiny. I really felt it." That was after the initial meeting of Dein and the then young manager of Monaco, in 1989. It wasn't until September 1996 that this flash of destiny bore fruit, with the arrival of Wenger. The importance of this Dein/Wenger relationship is very obvious throughout the book, none more so than the 2am back garden chats between the former Arsenal director and the then captain of spurs, a certain Sol Campbell. The book is packed which such fantastic insights and titbits.Of the eponymous team itself, the four members who Wenger repositioned is given much attention. Henry was switched to a central striker from the wing, Lauren from midfield to right back, Touré again from midfield to central defence and Ljungberg out to the wing. Thus highlighting the vast difference between teams that were subsequently bought as Chelsea and then City came to the top of the financial realm of English soccer, and that which was coaxed into place by the foresight of the footballing brain of Wenger. The team itself was made, in the words of Lawrence, of "different roots, diverse personalities, disparate interests." The book, through one on one interviews with the entire cast, does a great job capturing these personalities. From the humble Edu to the thoughtful Campbell to the character which is Parlour. Anecdotes and quotes enliven the story so the chapters skip by until the stage is set with the start of the 2003/04 season itself. The pivotal early season game against Man United which saw them miss a penalty in extra time and the raucous scenes of players barging into Van Nistelrooy in the aftermath of the miss, turns out to be a great galvaniser of the team spirit and togetherness as they and Wenger are much pilloried for their behaviour. Another pivotal moment is the 5 - 1 hammering of Inter Milan at the San Siro. A result that reverberated around Europe and did 'wonders for Arsenal's belief'.The key moment of the entire season would appear to being down at halftime of the Liverpool game at Highbury. The team was shell shocked going into this game having been knocked out of both the FA cup and the Champion's League in the preceding games. So it was no shock that, with Chelsea breathing down the neck of title aspirations of the Arsenal that that halftime, was possibly the season's low point. Again, Lawrence captures the moment with great mastery of her craft, and the resulting rally in the second half shines as one of the great and cathartic events the team played through.Less inspiring but equally important for the capture of the 'invisible prize' was the four games that came after the title was won (at a certain ground of another north london team). Again, the author manages to convey the player's struggles to lift themselves over these final hurdles, and 're-spark their motivation'. The crux of the Invincible season essentially came down to 'rebuilding momentum', and once the league was one this task is like no other 'precisely because the circumstances were not normal, not something a footballer would expect to face.' As Henry says, "There was no prize. At the end, what are you getting? You are fighting for something you will never see."In the final game of that unprecedented season the word's of an opposition player capture the mood brilliantly, "I can remember Arsène Wenger standing up and saying to Henry, 'come on Thierry! We need more!' And he just went from first gear to fifth gear and I have never, ever, seen a player do this before." Arsenal run out 2-1 winners and the team become immortal, repeating a feat last achieved in a bygone era when there were only 12 teams in the top flight, of the 1888/89 season by Preston North End. As we look back today at the end of the Wenger era, this invincible season surely marks the pinnacle of that era and a time and place special to Arsenal fans everywhere. An era captured beautifully by this book I can highly recommend to anyone with a passion for excellence and seeing the impossible achieved.