I don’t want to sound paranoid but it’s looking a lot like Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are the subject of a concerted smear campaign by the British Press. I’m well used to the typical attack machine and back-handed snips that often happen when reporting on Arsenal.
These include things like a reporter mentioning the total number of red cards that Arsenal have garnered in the league under Arsene whenever a player is sent off. I’ve also become inured to the typically hyped headlines that follow any Arsenal game that has any controversy. After all, they are in the business of selling newspapers and “Sunderland secure valuable point against Arsenal” is not going to sell nearly as many papers as “Wenger loses plot after late Arsenal lapse.”
I’ve come to expect that Journalists aren’t so much interested in telling the truth but rather in selling papers. They are also human beings and they have a point of view which they cannot completely eradicate from their articles no matter how hard they try. But still, if they work for a newspaper they have editors I expect that those editors will hold the writer to some kind of standard and at the very least what they cannot do is print outright lies in order to serve an agenda.
But that’s what it looks like has happened over the last week or so. It looks like reporters and columnists are creating articles that contain factually incorrect information in order to serve the agenda that says Arsene is a whiner who wants to remove contact from the game.
The alarm was actually rung by John Cross back on the 15th when he wrote a column that was an impassioned defense of Wenger’s previous press conference. It was a piece titled How Arsene Wenger was unfairly represented in his latest rant against tackling, and the proof that he has a point and in it he laid out a decent enough defense of Wenger, using his own words. Wenger doesn’t want to remove tackling from the game, Wenger isn’t trying to just protect Arsenal, and Wenger even realizes that him saying that he wants to protect the players (ALL the players) will be mis-reported that he wants to only protect his players (and that he’s a whinger, etc).
I didn’t pay much attention to the article because at the time, there were only other managers rattling their sabers, popping their gum, and moaning like a drain. The press corpse hadn’t quite woken up to the potential for a season-long controversy from Wenger’s presser. Unfortunately, now it seems they have and just like last year’s constant smearing of Eduardo and Arsenal which led directly to Arsenal not being awarded a penalty until Feb. 20th against Sunderland the press all smell a good narrative and are out to once again sell that narrative to the public. I can only hope that unlike last year, this one is completely dismissed before we are kicked off the pitch in every single game.
The simplest way to lie is to pretend that you heard something different and report it as fact. For example, Mark Lawrenson who is almost never right about anything and who seems to have a hard on for bashing Arsenal accuses Wenger of hypocrisy by wondering why Arsene wants protection and lauds his players for being physical at the same time. You could wonder aloud, Mark, or maybe you could, you know, be arsed to go look at what Wenger actually said:
I’m a bit cautious because… I love the English game, I’ve said that many times. But every time I come out, people are more interested in controversy than protecting the players. If it is to create another story and the tackling will go nowhere, it will end up being the same. Why should I create another story? You asked me how the tackle was, and it was bad. If you want to write it was a good tackle you can do it. But for me it was bad.
But Lawrenson is a pundit and I give them a pretty wide berth when it comes to writing their opinion pieces. The standards for editorials have dropped considerably in recent years and when you throw in that the only reason people listen to him at all is that he’s a footballing dinosaur I suppose we shouldn’t get too upset that “Lawro” has a pop at Arsenal basically every chance he gets. He’s just joining the fray.
But there are actual reporters who are getting in on the action, like Colin Young over at the Daily Mail and Steve Tongue at the Independent both of whom launched misleading and factually inaccurate pieces which are more calumny than column.
Colin Young’s hatchet piece is titled What was that about foul habits Arsene? Wenger’s side commit more fouls in the game against Sunderland in which he claims that Arsenal committed more fouls than Sunderland. Now, you should be wary of any column that purports to prove something about football using statistics. Unlike, say, the NBA the Premier League doesn’t keep the range of statistics that many fans would probably like to see. So, that means that private companies keep stats on the games and each company has a slightly different way to measure the game. That’s how ESPN can report that the game had 14 Arsenal fouls to 12 Sunderland fouls and the BBC can report that the count was 13 to 12.
There was a difference in the number of fouls that were called against Arsenal and against Sunderland, I will concede that. Why that happened, I won’t concede. I think Phil Dowd had a terribly lopsided game that favored the home team but hey, that’s my opinion. What Colin Young does, though is exaggerate the difference claiming that Arsenal committed 13 fouls to Sunderland’s 9 and that, worse, Arsenal had committed 11 of those fouls by half-time and that Sunderland had only committed 1. He also exaggerated the number of fouls that Song had committed prior to his sending off calling them “umpteen” fouls when according to ESPN it was actually just 4.
I watched the first half of the game over again. According to my count, Song committed 2 fouls in the first half, one of which wasn’t even a foul and the booking came for dissent. He only played 13 minutes in the second half before being sent off for obstruction, which was his 5th foul according to my count. Hardly “umpteen” fouls.
But while Colin Young tries to simply pull the wool over your eyes in order to make it look like Arsene is a hypocrite, Steve Tongue just outright lies in his column Wenger loses plot after late Arsenal lapse.
First off, the title should tell you something. You’re not going to be in for a fair article when the title accuses Arsene Wenger of going insane after the game when by all accounts he did no more than any manager has ever done when the game has gone on for far longer than it should. He didn’t go out to the center circle and scream at the ref, he didn’t make a throat-cutting gesture into the camera in a disgraceful display of indicipline. He merely touched the ref and pointed at his watch. For which I expect him to be flayed and put in the stocks by the FA.
Where Steve Tongue outright lies though is when he makes this statement:
His team had led since a freakish goal in the lucky 13th minute by Cesc Fabregas, after which Alex Song was sent off, Arsenal’s seventh red card in 16 League games, and Tomas Rosicky missed a penalty.
Arsenal’s 7th red card in 16 League games? That number really stood out to me. I know that so far this year we have had 2 which is an unusual number in itself and I have mentioned here and elsewhere that something is very strange when 80% of a team’s opening 5 games have had at least one player (between Arsenal and their opponents) sent off. But to have 7 reds in 16 games, all just in Arsenal cards? You’d think I would have remembered that.
Well, I didn’t remember it because it is an outright lie. The last 16 games go back to the match where Ryan Shawcross destroyed Ramsey’s leg with a brutal tackle and was rightly sent off with a straight red. Since then we have played, in order; Burnley, Hull, West Ham, Birmingham, Wolves, Tottenham, Wigan, Man City, Rovers, Fulham, Liverpool, Blackpool, Blackburn, Bolton, and Sunderland. In that time, Arsenal have had three red cards, not seven as claimed: Vermaelen, Koscielny, and Song. None of which were 3 match ban red cards it should be noted.
But even if Steve Tongue was, say a mentalist, and meant to say that “Arsenal matches have had 7 red cards in the last 16″ he would be wrong. There have been 9 red cards all totaled and at least one red card in 8 of the last 16. Which is a column all unto itself, why Arsenal matches are getting so many cards.
But that’s not the focus of this article. Because the low-hanging fruit here is that Steve Tongue and the journalists like him are not stupid and that there is something else going on.
How is it that an experienced, professional writer for a well known publication can write that sentence and it passes the fact-checkers and editors that they have on board?
One answer is that they and others are developing a narrative for this season. They are setting the table for people to believe that Arsenal are indisciplined whingers so that they will have something to write about this season that isn’t about the real problems in football.
Your choice is whether you want to read them and thus support that narrative or not.