By Tony Attwood
If you are a regular reader of Untold you’ll know about my interest in the way that football is portrayed in the media. While of course like every other supporter of Arsenal I wanted a stunning victory on Sunday and was disappointed, there is one tiny crumb of comfort from the affair, for it gives us a chance to observe the media, the aaa and the bloggettas in full cry against Arsenal.
Like I say, I’d sooner not have the chance to observe them, but since it is happening all around us, I’ll take the opportunity of watching the hounds baying for blood.
You might recall that I’ve written in the past about how even tiny details can change the perception of the game. For example we can note the way that time wasting by goal keepers is never shown on TV and is replaced by pictures of the player who led the last attack, trotting back towards the half way line, and then the re-showing of the last attack.
There’s a reason for that, of course, because TV can re-show such incidents and can pick up issues that might have been missed – but nevertheless such cutting away from the live action to the recording does give a wholly false impression of how the match is being played, and how it is being refereed.
Moving forwards I was particularly frustrated with the way the media (and here include the newspapers as well as TV) dealt with the Barcelona match. For the people in the ground the key issue was the referee. But for people watching on TV, and then taking the news from the newspapers’ web sites, there was no referee issue.
By chance I have recently discovered something else that adds to the debate, while researching the current series on the 1970s that is running on the Arsenal History Society website.
Last week I wrote and published article 22 in the series: July to Dec 1978. Surviving without Macdonald and here’s a little extract… It relates to the match on 2 December 1978, in which Arsenal beat Liverpool 1-0 at Highbury. It reads thus…
“The other post-match criticism was perhaps more interesting and less expected – for perhaps the first time the papers questioned why TV had edited out a number of the more rumbustious tackles from Liverpool….”
That complaint was genuinely extraordinary, for it reflected something that many supporters had been feeling for some time – that TV reporting was becoming horribly biased. And as a complaint it was not alone for it followed on a comment in the Observer on 7 April 1974 that saturday evening football on TV was turning humdrum games (such as the 0-0 draw between Arsenal and West Ham the previous day) into exciting affairs through skilful editing and hyped commentary in order to keep the TV audiences up. It was quite probably the first time such an accusation was made – and it was undoubtedly true.
Quite where this newspaper awareness of TV’s power to manipulate the reality of football went is not clear, but certainly by the 21st century it was all left behind as the press (or what was left of it) started to invent their own parody of reality, ultimately becoming (in the case of the Telegraph for example) more interested in what half a dozen people who were probably not at the game said on Twitter, rather than the fact that those present at the match would often see an utterly different game from the one delivered to the TV audience.
Leap forward to the present day and an article in the Guardian: “Tottenham’s pursuit of the title turns up the heat on Arsène Wenger” by Daniel Taylor. This article contains the comment about “the frenzy that seems to accompany every bad result is becoming louder each time. Paul Merson is among those who think he should be cut loose if Leicester or Spurs win the league.”
Now the link that is part of the phrase “the frenzy that seems to accompany every bad result” is one that the Guardian has themselves placed within the Taylor article and it leads to a piece by Amy Lawrence – a piece about the game, which doesn’t really seem in any way to be about the “frenzy that seems to accompany every bad result”. Rather the “frenzy” article appears itself to be part of the frenzy.
So, there is a frenzy created by the media for Mr Wenger to go.
But rather than just react to the last few results I decided to do some work, comparing the achievements of Wenger during his 20 odd seasons at Arsenal, with what happened at Arsenal in the 20 seasons before.
In case you want to read it, it is here, but I’ll save you the burden of extra reading by summarising.
The article lists the last 40 seasons of Arsenal, and looks at the trophies won. Arsene Wenger comes out on top – he has achieved more in his 20 years than Neill, Howe, Graham and Rioch did in their 20 years.
And just in case you are thinking that I am including coming second, third or fourth as a trophy, no I’m not (although I did out of interest look at the average position of Arsenal in the League at the end of each season under Wenger – 2.6 – against his predecessors – 5.4.)
But no, the main analysis is by trophies won. And to be fair to George Graham, I include the League Cup as well, even though much of the time Arsene Wenger was putting out a youth team in the League Cup games.
So in terms of trophies won, Mr Wenger has done more in his 20 years than the predecessors did in their 20 years – and he’s financed a stadium build as well. But that is not all.
For then I included an analysis of the league win percentage of all the managers of Arsenal who have managed over 100 league games with the club. Mr Wenger is not just top once again but is also top by a long way (Harry Bradshaw of whom you’ve probably never heard comes second and Herbert Chapman third).
And, as I went back through those figures an interesting other factor turned up – his win percentage has been going up year by year.
So what does all this show us? Of course it doesn’t prove that Mr Wenger should leave or should stay, nor does it tell us whether a chance of manager would be for better or for worse.
But what it does show us if Arsenal are going to move forwards after Mr Wenger goes, they are going to need to recruit the best manager the club has ever had. Better than Wenger, better than Chapman, better than Allison, better than Whittaker, better than Graham, better than Mee.
He’ll have a bit more money than Mr Wenger, true, as he won’t be thinking about the cost of the stadium, but he’ll also have one hell of a task. He’s got to be the best we’ve had ever to be better than Wenger.
I am not convinced we will find that person, but obviously when it comes to the time for Mr Wenger to go, I obviously hope we do. But equally I hope we avoid doing a Tottenham. They’ve got Mauricio Pochettino – but just look at how long it took them to find him.
- Chris Houghton 1997-1997
- Christian Gross 1997-1998
- David Pleat 1998-1998
- George Graham 1998-2001
- David Pleat 2001-2001
- Glenn Hoddle 2001-2003
- David Pleat 2003–2004
- Jacques Santini 2004–2004
- Martin Jol 2004–2007
- Clive Allen and Alex Inglethorpe 2007-2007
- Juande Ramos 2007-2007
- Clive Allen and Alex Inglethorpe 2008-2008
- Harry Redknapp 2008-2012
- André Villas-Boas 2012 – 2013
- Tim Sherwood 2013-2014
- Mauricio Pochettino
Remember, getting rid of a manager is easy. Finding a better manager is harder.
Two Anniversaries – the full list is on the home page
- 1 March 1913: The Football League rejected appeals by Tottenham to prohibit Arsenal from moving to Gillespie Road reiterating, as they had pointed out in the 1910 AGM that League rules gave them no control over the location of each club.
- 1 March 1993: Chelsea 1 Arsenal 0. Arsenal scored four goals in 14 league matches between 21 November and this game. During that period Arsenal won just two league games, both away, both 0-1 against Man City and Oldham.
The Untold Books
The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon. Details of this and our previous and forthcoming titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.
From the History Society