How Arsenal finally benefitted from the attitude of the football media



By Tony Attwood

Obviously, I occasionally write about Tottenham Hotspur because they are Arsenal’s local rivals, and of course when as a child I lived near Highbury, I also obviously lived near White Hart Lane and so always had an interest in the club.  In my primary school one had to be either Tottenham or Arsenal.  One kid was Orient, but he was weird.

And it is interesting that just a few years ago it seemed that Tottenham could have gained the upper hand, as Arsenal were for a while at least in the lower parts of the league.

But instead, Tottenham, while trying to make themselves the biggest club in north London, have done the opposite.   As Arsenal slipped in ways that were unimaginable in Wengerian days, Tottenham, well, were just Spursy.

Of course, their top-down approach doesn’t help – it rarely works in any business.  Nor indeed comments about the failures of the commercial department, the youth department, player recruitment etc.  But Arsenal have been getting these for years and with Tottenham the stories became joined up in a picture that looked like institutional failure.

Part of this is certainly due to the people at the top either not listening to or endlessly arguing with their PR department.  Doing things like laying off staff during the pandemic is ok if the club’s PR division can cope with it, but not if it can’t.

But above all else, clubs need a successful narrative to tell, even if the media refuse to tell it.  And that is what Tottenham utterly lacked but which Arsenal had by the lorry load.

On 20 December 2019 when Arteta joined Arsenal, Tottenham were four points and five places above Arsenal.  Not enormous but enough for the Tottenham loving journalists to enjoy…


Team P W D L F A GD Pts
5 Tottenham Hotspur 17 7 5 5 32 24 8 26
10 Arsenal 17 5 7 5 24 27 -3 22


By season’s end however the gap had narrowed and Tottenham had failed to widen the gap during the turmoil at Arsenal, caused by the start of Arteta’s reforms.


Team P W D L F A GD Pts
6 Tottenham Hotspur 38 16 11 11 61 47 14 59
8 Arsenal 38 14 14 10 56 48 8 56


In 2020/1 the size of the Arsenal rebuild and demolition of all that had been there before became clear, and Tottenham should have been marching on.  Except they were not.  By that season end the tables read


Team P W D L F A GD Pts
7 Tottenham Hotspur 38 18 8 12 68 45 23 62
8 Arsenal 38 18 7 13 55 39 16 61


The media never once mentioned this but year on year Arsenal, the club that was totally transforming everything within it, was not just staying on Tottenham’s tail but getting closer.

And how incredibly annoying it must have been for Tottenham with their wonderful new stadium and beer pumped up from the bottom of the glass, that this kept on happening.  Yes at the end of last season they were able to write a narrative about how they had pipped Arsenal to fourth, but that wasn’t the story at all, although the media gleefully accepted it.


Team P W D L F A GD Pts
4 Tottenham Hotspur 38 22 5 11 69 40 29 71
5 Arsenal 38 22 3 13 61 48 13 69


The story was that Arsenal had spent those last few years tearing out all of the old regime and building something quite new so that today the table reads…


Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Arsenal 33 23 6 4 78 38 40 75
5 Tottenham Hotspur 33 16 6 11 60 53 7 54


Arsenal are 19 points and a 33-goal difference above Tottenham.  Tottenham have had all those years of Arsenal taking out all the final vestiges of the Wengerian era and its aftermath, yet Arsenal now have more points than Tottenham have had at the end of the recent seasons, and still have five games to play.

The Athletic suggest that Tottenham have become a “copy and paste big club, bringing in the experienced managing director of football, the slick chief commercial officer.”   And that might be true, but it is not the full story.   They have meandered around the edges of Champions League qualification and not made progress while Arsenal ripped everything up and had a total rebuild.

So yes it is true as the Athletic says that they lurch “from one disaster to another (keeping on Paratici when he was banned from Italian football and the subsequent ban when his ban was then made global went down particularly badly)” but that’s not the full story.  The real point is that they are making these mistakes while Arsenal are getting the concept of a total rebuild right.

And perhaps for once the media has played into Arsenal’s hands for by absolutely refusing to cover the story of how Arsenal from being the most yellow-carded club to one of the least (which was the very start of the Artetian revolution) the journalists totally missed the entire series – and so did the other clubs around Arsenal.  Instead the media were talking up Tottenham, and thus came Tottenham’s biggest mistake: they started to believe the media.

And thus, for once, we can be jolly grateful to the ladies and gentlemen of the press.

One Reply to “How Arsenal finally benefitted from the attitude of the football media”

  1. Tony,
    Right on the money! I still can’t understand why Spurs are the media darlings. Perhaps it’s that they (Levy) have a knee-jerk reaction to everything, endlessly changing Managers, Directors, et al just as the media always suggest as a solution. It’s head scratching. They don’t win f**k all yet the media fawn over them. Do Daniel Levy’s deep pockets extend in that direction? Perks, tips, insider info? Sorry, but it’s certainly not the results on the pitch.

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