By Marianna Trench, our in depth investigator
What anyone reading a report of a match in a newspaper or on a blog has to realise is that football reports contain a lot of editing. And the editing is not so much of the copy that is published, but of the reality that preceded it.
“Arsenal should have had a penalty. Lacazette complains that he has not had one” reads the minute by minute account.
“Cut that.” The sports editor is definitive taking the decision within a second.
“It will be on Match of the Day,” replies one hack.
“Then they are wrong,” the editor shouts. “Arsenal are ‘somewhat fortuitous’. Have you got that? Do I have to spell it out? There was no penalty claim, we don’t even debate it. It did not happen. It is not even an issue to be considered. It simply was not an incident. Nothing happened. There was no appeal. The ref did not make an exaggerated hands down sweep outward. This is not part of reality.” Words from the report are removed. There was no penalty claim.
“Boss?” one of the younger scribblers tentatively raises a hand. The big man scowls.
“Arsenal were second-best for much of the game, conceding some clear-cut chances to Watford while squandering the few that came their way,” ventures the cub.
Slowly, very slowly, a smirk crosses the face of the big man. It moves slowly because there is a lot of face to cross. “I like this lad,” he says. “Go to it boy.”
The story is changed. There was no foul, no penalty call. The Lacazette chance was there but was in fact “squandered”. Arsenal were second best even though it didn’t look that way to a lot of people there.
And so it continues. Arsenal don’t win by design, they have a victory thrust upon them by chance, while all the time trying not to win. Had it been left to their own planning Arsenal would have lost.
When Cech is injured the editor shouts, “That is an enforced changed. There’s no planning. Arsenal were forced to do that.”
So Leno coming on because of the “enforced change” means that anything Leno then did was not part of good planning, but purely fortuitous. That he could make two important saves to “keep Arsenal in the game” (as the hacks say) is chance. Lucky Arsenal. If Cech had been on the pitch he would have missed them.
In this contrary reality Arsenal are not learning, for this was not the first time this season that they have taken all three points by being forced to win by circumstance, despite being less than convincing, and neither is it the first time that Emery’s changes have made a significant impact.
And the point of this is clear. Emery is a manager who is completely incapable of getting it right first time. That’s the point. He doesn’t know what his best team is.
So Arsenal are dead lucky. For they have scored twice in the second half of each those victories in a row, and if games only had one half Arsenal would be looking at relegation. And to prove the point consider that Arsenal have scored four goals in the final 10 minutes, and they are so lucky that those tend minutes are there at all. If games were only 80 minutes long Arsenal would be heading for relegation. Lucky Arsenal. Proper clubs score in the first half.
Indeed there is so much luck going on here we really do have to face the possibility that voodoo is at work – and certainly there is cheating. There used to be a camera pointing at Wenger on the bench making the claim about his long coat and long face. But Emery is wearing a sharp suit and is energetic. It is a ploy so that the camera can’t follow him. Same old Arsenal always cheating.
Laughingly Match of the Day produced a heatmap of the technical area, but it was all one colour because Emery moved about a lot. The presenters laughed. It was a joke. But the next day the press are reporting the heatmap of the tech area as if it is serious.
“Let us not forget the Spaniard has a huge task on his hands,” says the Telegraph. Adding, “it was never a simple job to replace Wenger after the Frenchman had revolutionised the club two decades ago, turning them into serial winners and the most stylish team in the country.” Spaniard, Frenchman… just remove these people’s identities and cast them in a national stereotype. Do they do this with cricketers from Pakistan? No of course not. Just Arsenal.
And blimey, was that praise of Wenger? No because “Those traits had long gone by the time Wenger departed, and Emery has to change a culture of underachievement.”
But what they don’t point to is that it is only underachievement when compared with the extraordinary heights that Arsenal reached under Mr Wenger. For the Telegraph, Wenger becoming the manager who won more FA Cups than anyone else, and Arsenal becoming the team that won more FA Cups than anyone else, and Arsenal becoming the team that played in the Champions League for more consecutive years than any club other than the state financed Real Madrid was “under achievement”.
As for Ramsey, he didn’t so much go off, but was “hooked” – a new word for substituted. Not used on any other team, just Arsenal. Mesut Ozil took over as captain – an interesting point. Shall we dwell on that? No, instead we get, “Ramsey is in the final year of his current contract, talks have stalled and with Liverpool interested in him, the player could be following Alexis Sanchez out of the club.”
Oh really? I never knew that. And shall we mention that Arsenal got the better deal out of the Alexis swap? No best not.
And does the report have anything to do with the match? Not that I can see.
You can read how the report finally appeared in the national press here.
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