The Fulham v Arsenal press conference – what was said and what was reported. (Guess what, they are not the same thing).
The basic media line on Arsene’s post-Fulham comments regarding referee Lee Probert is best summed up by the Guardian’s David Hytner, when he opened his article on the post-match press conference by claiming that:
“Arsène Wenger voiced dark conspiracy theories in a bitter tirade at the referee Lee Probert after watching his 10-man Arsenal side stunned at the very last by Fulham…”
Fair enough, David. But how’s this for a “dark conspiracy theory?”:
The truth is that the journalists at post-Fulham press conference knew perfectly well that Lee Probert’s performance was appalling in the match. However, rather than report on this shocking performance by Probert, they instead attempted to bait Arsène into making comments about the ref, which they could subsequently use to report that Arsène was harbouring “conspiracy theories.”
What is my evidence to support this “conspiracy theory?” How about the simple fact that, during the post-match press conference, every single question asked was about a refereeing decision? Having watched a lot of post-match press conferences, I can say that it is highly unusual, in my experience, for a press conference to be as one-note as this one was, in terms of the topics under discussion.
Basically, it appears to me that, while Arsène did set out to deliberately highlight the Djourou sending off and the not-given Gervinho penalty as questionable decisions, the journalists present, on their own initiative, chose to bang on about these topics for the entire press conference in an apparent attempt to get Arsène to go even further in his criticism of Probert.
This is despite the fact that Arsène appeared to try to change the subject, actually attempted to leave at one point, and, at the very least, offered plenty of opportunities for the journalists to move on to other topics.
The entire press conference is transcribed in full at the end of this article, so that you can all decide for yourselves whether or not you agree with me about the journalists “baiting” Arsène to make comments about the ref. However, if I am correct that this was the case, would it not suggest foreknowledge amongst those same journalists that Probert’s performance was, in fact, even more appalling than Arsène had acknowledged initially? To me it would.
However, if you don’t like that one, how about this “dark conspiracy theory?”:
Despite their persistent attempts to accuse Arsène of (to quote the Mirror) “whinging about referees,” in truth, at least some journalists know perfectly well that referees systematically target Arsenal with certain bad decisions. However, rather than report on this, they appear to prefer, for some reason, to portray others who have noticed this same fact as “paranoid.”
My evidence to support the above “conspiracy theory” is as follows: Were it not the case, why would a journalist have asked the following question during the post-Fulham press conference:
“Q: Arsene, Etihad, Villa Park, here today, and also the Emirates, so many cases have gone against the players when there’s been all these penalties. What do you have to do to win a penalty?”
Is it just me, or does that sound like a “conspiracy theory?” Or at least, a “conspiracy theory” according to current media norms for defining the term? Please do let me know if you find even a single article covering the Fulham match which also happens to mention this systematic denial of penalties against Arsenal as something newsworthy…
Finally, if you’re still not convinced by the above, let’s see if you can get around this one (my “darkest conspiracy theory” of all):
For some reason, nearly every major newspaper in England appears to have published the same fabricated quote from Arsène Wenger to bolster these “ref attack” stories, which subtly influences how Arsène’s comments would likely be interpreted. That is, unless I’m going temporarily deaf during the same portion of the post-match press conference over and over again.
And to make matters worse, it seems that any journalist who actually attended or watched the press conference would simply have to be aware that, during the conference, Arsène did not say the following:
In the Guardian article linked above, David Hytner reported that Arsène said: “the game was all [about] looking for the second yellow card for Djourou. The referee was naive enough to give it.”
According to Laura Williamson at the Daily Mail, Arsène said: “The moment (Djourou got) the first yellow card they tried every time to get him the second and the referee was naïve enough to give it.”
As my final example (although more papers published this “naive” quote), Antony Kastrinakis reported in the Sun that Arsene said: “”The moment you get the first yellow they tried every time to get the second and the ref was naive enough to give it.”
Now, one thing that you should notice about the above “quotes” is that there seems to be a certain amount of disagreement over how Arsène actually phrased this “naive” comment. And if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that the likely reason for this discrepancy is somehow linked to the fact that (based on the video of the post-match press conference that appears on Arsenal Player), Arsène never actually said anything at all about the referee being “naive.”
Specifically, I have watched the post-match press conference four times in a row, and while I have found portions of the above quotes, I cannot make out the word “naive” anywhere. If anyone else can, please let me know, so that I can offer a full and public apology to the above journalists.
However, at the current moment, all I hear Arsène saying is the following:
“When Djourou got the first half [yellow], every time they went down to get him a second yellow, and he did nothing at all… I saw it coming, you know, because the game when Frei came on was all about look for the second yellow card against Djourou, and in the end he got it.”
So, assuming for the moment that my ears are working properly, let’s take a moment to analyze this probable fabrication.
Specifically, why would multiple journalists (hypothetically) go out of their way to falsely report that Arsène called the referee “naive?” While it is likely that some such reports could be attributed to nothing more than careless error, the probable fabrication must have orignated somewhere. But for what reason?
To analyze this question, let’s use the Mirror as an example, and take a look at how they reported on Arsene’s comments generally:
According to Neil McLeman in the Mirror article linked above:
“Arsène Wenger launched a scathing attack on Lee Probert after seeing Arsenal fall apart at Craven Cottage.
The Gunners boss claimed the referee missed a certain penalty for his side, and then fell for Fulham’s plan to get Johan Djourou sent off, as Arsenal conceded twice in the last six minutes.”
So, according to McLeman, Probert’s alleged “crime” that Arsène accused him of was that he “fell for Fulham’s plan to get Johan Djourou sent off.” In other words, Fulham is cast in the “bad guy” role, while Probert is cast as the “victim,” guilty only of being naively goaded into wrongdoing by Fulham. The Mirror followed this same trend in a subsequent article (also by McLeman) headlined “Riise hits back at Wenger claims over Djourou red card, “ which published a denial by Riise that there had been any Fulham “plot” to get Djourou sent off.
However, I can’t help but notice that, in this “evil Fulham/naive Probert” storyline, any insinuation that Probert himself may have had ill intent in the Djourou sending off is subtly eliminated from Wenger’s post-match comments…
Could this be the reason for the apparent fabrication? Your guess is as good as mine…
The following is the full transcript of Arsène’s post-Fulham press conference. I’m curious to see whether readers agree with my own conclusion that the journalists were “baiting” Arsene to make comments about the ref:
Q: It was difficult after the sending off of Djourou [inaudible]?
Arsène: The referee influenced the game in completely the wrong way in my opinion, and…but we cannot influence that. We had a good first half, in the second half we were more tired, and in the last minutes we lost the game because we were down to 10 men. And the first yellow card was not a yellow card, the second yellow card was a foul for us, it was 100% penalty for us in the first half, and that plus the fact that we didn’t take our chances in the first half made the difference.
Q: When you say “foul for us,” do you think there was a foul on Mertesacker, for the second?
[Please note that the above journalist had already singled out the not-given foul on Mertesacker as a questionable call without Arsene saying a word.]
Arsène: Yeah, of course. When Djourou got the first half [yellow], every time they went down to get him a second yellow, and he did nothing at all.
Q: How do you explain the first one, Arsène? You didn’t think it was a bad enough foul? Or the first booking was not a foul, or not a bad foul?
Arsène: I saw it coming, you know, because the game when Frei came on was all about look for the second yellow card against Djourou, and in the end he got it.
Q: But what about the first one?
Arsène: It was not a yellow card.
Q: But it was a foul, but it wasn’t a bad one. [Inaudible] make sense?
Arsène: I don’t know. I think it was 100% penalty on Gervinho from Senderos in the first half, and the referee had a massive influence on the game like that. You know that in the second half, we played many games recently, that if we drop below 11 we will be in trouble. But we would not have been in trouble would we have stayed with 11 on the pitch.
[Brief silence with no questions. This is unusual only 2 minutes into a press conference. It’s like they’re waiting for Arsène to say something else. Note that when questioning resumes, it’s about the ref again].
Arsène: Ok, thank you. [Gets up to leave].
Q: Arsène, Arsène, I was going to say… Seeing the super slow-mo of the penalty, it looks like it was a clear penalty. Gervinho was brought down.
Arsène [sitting back down]: Yeah. What can I do?
Q: Uh…So, were you surprised if the referee doesn’t give a penalty [inaudible] then a card for diving?
Arsène: I don’t know. I’m surpri- you want the right decision, you know, in a game of that importance for us today… But I do not want to speak more about that. We had the chances to kill the game off before, and we didn’t do it. In the end, I think it’s very unlucky to lose a game with 10 men. When you see the game today, that we finish with 10 men, it’s very difficult to take, you know, and that made a massive difference, when you have played 48 hours before, and you finish with 10 men, it’s too difficult…
Q: Isn’t it the case, Arsène, that the defense now is sadly coming to exhibit problems [inaudible] is well known, but Djourou, the way he’s been performing has been admirable, but is it just the case that it was going to happen eventually, a sending off, or a situation like this?
Arsène: If he deserves to be sent off, he is sent off. I don’t know wha- if the decision is right. I don’t know why it has to happen if he is not to be sent off. I think he has done well, we are short, we have lost three left backs and two right backs. What can you do? You cannot buy 10 fullbacks to make sure that you have a fullback in case of injury.
Q: There was close to an allegation made, Arsène, that a team is setting out to get players sent off. [Inaudible] something [inaudible] said?
Arsène: We do not need to make stories for the newspapers. I tell you the game I have seen. I don’t care about the rest, you know. I just felt that every time Djourou was on the fringe to get a second yellow. You can watch the game again.
Q: Nevertheless, Arsène, to go from 15th to now 5th in twelve to thirteen games is still some achievement.
Arsène: Yes, but there was too much at stake in the game today. We needed absolutely everything to go for us and to be right. We are guilty because we still gave two goals away, I felt in a stupid way, and we didn’t take our chances. But as well, you must say that, as literal as you can be, nothing went for us from the referee today. Nothing at all. And we cannot change that, and we have to live with it, unfortunately.
Q: You seemed to be marching towards the ref at the end, and perhaps thought better of it. Was that the case?
Arsène: No. Because you know what you get.
Q: Arsène, Etihad, Villa Park, here today, and also the Emirates, so many cases have gone against the players when there’s been all these penalties. What do you have to do to win a penalty?
Arsène: We had a penalty in the last game against…clear hand ball, we had a penalty at Man City, we had a penalty at Villa Park. We don’t get it. You should not ask me. I don’t know.
Thank you. [Arsène leaves].
The Fulham Arsenal story in full