Feature

Room 10: behind the scenes with Arsene Wenger

If you walk into the media building at the Arsenal training ground and head up the stairs towards the press conference room, the chances are you’d miss room 10.

It’s the first one on your right on the top-floor corridor, and it’s just your average room. Around 10 foot by 10 foot, a cupboard, a window, a blind.
 
It’s pretty tight in there once you’ve set up lights, cameras, chairs and a backdrop. And although it’s stuffy in the summer you can’t open the window because of the dog barking in the garden of a house nearby.
 
All pretty humdrum, really. But what makes room 10 special is Arsene Wenger. This is the space where the boss, each week, gives an exclusive interview to club media.
 
These are the interviews you see on Arsenal.com, in our matchday programme and dotted across our social channels. And it usually takes place just before the boss sits down for his pre-match press conference.
 
The routine goes something like this:
 
Get to Colney for 8am. The boss could stroll in at 9.30am but it could easily be 8.30am. And he’s not going to hang around if we’re not ready.
 
Handle any last-minute hitches. Recently there was a fly buzzing around in room 10 with the boss imminent. That would ruin the shot, the audio and, even worse, the insect could land on his face while he speaks. After a long battle our camera op, deftly avoiding the lights and camera, chased the fly out of the room and shut the door to keep it out. Panic over.
 
Then you hear it. “He’s coming.” Usually delivered by Dave or Rino, club staff who are based in the media building and are kind enough to give us a heads-up.
 
Then the sound of footsteps on the stairs and that unmistakeable French accent, usually in conversation with our communications director Mark Gonnella.
 
And then he arrives, sweeping into room 10 with a “good morning”. A small room now filled with a big presence.
 
The boss is businesslike - we’re just the first stop on a busy morning that kicks off with media work and continues with a training session and meetings. But he’s unfailingly pleasant.

Arsene Wenger in Room 10

UNIQUE ACCESS

It wasn’t always room 10. Indeed, the media building hasn’t been around at Arsenal as long as the manager has. It opened in 2002, just after that second double.
 
Before room 10, we’d set up our camera in the stairwell near the manager’s office in the main building at Colney, while press conferences took place in a small room upstairs. That’s unfathomable now - you could barely get all the journalists in there, let alone the cameras.
 
Going back even further, before the digital revolution, the boss would polish off his lunch in the training ground restaurant and then sit down on a sofa to speak into a dictaphone for his programme notes.
 
Our access has evolved with the media landscape. But the one constant has been the willingness of the manager to grant that access.
 
And what access it has been.
 
Give or take, we’ve spoken to the boss for an average of 10 minutes each week since he arrived.
 
He’s had 1,128 weeks at the helm so that’s an eye-watering (for him, anyway) 188 hours talking to club media.
 
And spare a thought for the hardy souls who transcribe the interviews. Every 10 minutes generates around 1,200 words - that’s 13.5 million words over the past 22 years.

Arsene Wenger

‘LOOK…’

Through all of this, the boss has lost his voice a handful of times but he’s never shirked an interview.
 
The morning after a stinging defeat in Europe? Hours after a player made an unwelcome appearance on the front pages? In the midst of a feverish public debate about new signings or, more recently, his future?
 
He’d always show up and front up.
 
Of course it helped that we weren’t asking what you’d consider to be the ‘difficult’ questions. That’s not what club media does.
 
We’d be gently mocked for that from time to time. “What did you ask about?” a journalist would enquire when a cloud was over the club. “Isn’t everything fantastic, Arsene?” we’d reply.
 
That’s not to say we’d sidestep the big issues - you can’t ignore what’s right in front of you - but we’d be optimistic as well as realistic.
 
We wouldn’t put the manager in an awkward position - we left that to those at his press conferences. Instead, we explored themes that brought the best out of the boss.
 
And anyone who’s spent any time with Arsene Wenger, or seen him speak, knows how erudite he is.
 
Get him on a former player, a notable moment in football history or a deeper conversation about physiology, the evolution of the striker, football intelligence, governing bodies, rule changes, the global game, technology and the future, etc etc etc… and his passion, personality and knowledge shine through.
 
Even then, those familiar Wenger tics tell us when it’s going badly.
 
Any answer that starts with “Look…” is shorthand for “I’d rather not talk about this so let’s move on.” And if the boss cuts off your question with his answer then he already knows what you’re going to ask and you’re labouring the point.

Arsene Wenger

GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT

Something else you may not know about? The personal messages.
 
At the end of many of our interviews, the boss is asked to ad-lib into the camera about anything and everything.
 
A morale-boosting message to a fan who’s been taken ill. A nod to his former club, Nagoya Grampus, to celebrate their 25th anniversary. A tribute to our former head groundsman, Paul Burgess, after he received an award. A happy Diwali to our Indian fans. Congratulations to Egypt - and our passionate fans there - after they qualified for the World Cup. A message to Dan Tolhurst in our communications team after he chalked up 20 years at the club. A birthday greeting to Freddie Ljungberg. A happy Chinese New Year - in Chinese.
 
Again, never a complaint. And all delivered in one, confident take. Well, maybe not the Chinese bit.
 
The point is that the boss’ generosity of spirit, and his generosity with his time, has put smiles on faces all over the world. And not just when he is in the mood. He just does it.
 
Elsewhere on Arsenal.com you can read about the relationship our club photographers have forged with the boss. Like Stuart and Pricey, we’ve been able to get better at our jobs because of the access the boss has given us.
 
It’s the end of an era for everyone associated with Arsenal, and certainly for the media team. We’ve written the word ‘Wenger’ more times than we’d care to imagine, and that’s going to be a hard habit to break.
 
So that’s the story of Room 10. An ordinary room, filled with words by an extraordinary man.
 
It will be surreal to have someone else in there. If he speaks half as well as Arsene Wenger, we’ll be delighted.

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