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Evaluating The Athletic: does the new magazine have a new vision of Arsenal?

By Tony Attwood

It’s quite possible that England has never had a football magazine like The Athletic before.  It is serious, it is adult, there is a lot of it, you have to pay for it, and it is online.  So you read it on your “device”.

Also the articles are long – more like the length of Untold Arsenal articles in fact, in the region of 600 to 1200 words.  And given that the writers are educated people who tend to be able to construct grammatically correct sentences, it is clearly written for those who believe that football can be, and should be, discussed in an adult way.  No Toppled Bollard and Sir Hardly Anyone in sight.

Amy Lawrence who used to work for the Guardian and who earned my ire (not that such a thing is of any significance) through her misuse of statistics, is there, and has a recent piece “Disciplined and terrier-like in midfield, Torreira has looked reborn under Arteta”.

Although not all the stories that are classified as Arsenal are in fact about the club or its players.  The recent piece, “‘With any mistake, there’s a groan from the crowd. It’s like a punch to the guts if he misplaces a pass’ – life as the parent of a professional footballer” by Stuart James is classified as Arsenal because it contains some quotes from Alex Oxland Chamberlain’s dad,  about his time at Southampton.  It is interesting, but the link with the club we support is indeed tenuous.

The Athletic started in the USA where sport coverage in the papers was in decline; a resting place for journalists who had been made redundant.  In the UK, where most “journalists” were already doing nothing but writing 30 word pieces patched into standard paragraphs about Arsenal being worried and Liverpool living the dream, they had to find a slightly different approach.

And it seems its new basis is that football journalism in England is poor quality and The Athletic is making it better by using the journalists whose work was being squeezed by FootballLondon (the Daily Mirror’s on line drainpipe) and the like with those 30 word articles.

Or as the New Statesman said, the promise was not to provide “the familiar mixture of rumours, myth-making, puffery and sporadic insight, only at far greater expense.”

But with such promise it was thus a little sad to see that its Arsenal story last November headlined: “Exclusive: Arsenal will not sack Emery and are ‘100%’ behind the manager. They believe club are on the right path” by David Ornstein.  We were told, “fans are seemingly unified in the view that after 18 months as head coach, Emery should be sacked.”  An exclusive indeed!

Unabashed he quickly followed up with “Ornstein on Monday: doubts over Aubameyang captaincy,” while Untolders were wanting to write “Doubts over Ornstein’s crystal ball”.

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But with Emery and Ornstein teetering on the edge, James McNicholas came in with “Arsenal fans are used to waiting for change. But allowing Emery to persist will be interpreted as passively accepting mediocrity” – clearly showing that the old newspaper adage that football fans might remember goal averages from 50 years ago, but can’t recall newspaper headlines from yesterday, was still holding sway.

However with this Arsenal coverage was not going as either the publishers or the readers had wanted, there was a changing of authors for each new attempt, as they offered us tales of the elite coaches forum, Jack Wilshere’s future, Thierry Henry’s new managerial job, and why Koscielny left Arsenal (by James McNicholas: “Too many matches following his recovery from injury left the Frenchman feeling overused, undervalued and determined to get away…” – I think we’d already guessed that).

And with that last article we really saw where we were: back to the standard format of Arsenal the incompetent, Arsenal the cheaters, Arsenal as portrayed in every single newspaper and by every broadcaster.  As far as Arsenal was concerned The Athletic was giving us exactly the same as everyone else.

But they were getting desperate.  So desperate the next “Arsenal” story was “Finding Martin Hansson, the Henry handball referee…” by Daniel Taylor who had noticed it was “Ten years after Thierry Henry’s handball gifted France a World Cup spot at Ireland’s expense…”

When that failed Amy Lawrence was recruited, and quickly gave us an interesting piece on Pires’ role at the club helping rehabilitation of injured players, but just in case we thought they were getting soft, next up we got “Modern football moves fast – but at Arsenal, life continues to stand still” followed by “As Arsenal’s chairman considers resigning, how bad does it have to get before Emery goes?” – in which the phrase “how bad does…” was repeated, just to make sure we got it.

When Emery was sacked, the Athletic claimed they had exclusively revealed that event – although in fact just 19 days before they had revealed he wasn’t going anywhere.  And then we all knew: it really was the reporting of Arsenal as we have known it to be for years.

Even then they still didn’t really get to grips with their prognostication department as they saw Pochettino as “a credible option” for the new manager while meanwhile with a bit of highly unoriginal writing asked in their next article “At what point will Arsenal’s hierarchy share the blame for the Emery mess?”  Ornstein then told us Arsenal were focussing on Rodgers as the new manager…   And so it went on until all pretence of giving us an alternative vision of Arsenal was abandoned and The Athletic provided the headline coup de grace… “A decade of decline, but how far can Arsenal fall?”

A headline worthy of the Daily Express.

New writing?  No, just the same.  £9.99 a month for these pieces?  Well, yes, but it might have been a little more honest if they had called their Arsenal articles: “The AAA with long words”.

27 comments to Evaluating The Athletic: does the new magazine have a new vision of Arsenal?

  • Sour grapes?
    You guys need to get over the fact that they’re succeeding and people subscribe and like their product.

    You’re wasting your time and energy critiquing them, focus on your usual great articles

  • On the other hand I don’t think you are that good at guessing our motivation.

  • Masterstroke

    Still Amy bashing! You just can’t help yourself can you?
    My subscription to The Athletic is £2.99 per month for a year paid in advance.

  • Curiously most of the things I write are written through choice, not because of some strange force that you seem to imagine. But still, I’m glad you managed to get the magazine on the cheap.

  • Les Martin (LeMmy)

    The well researched articles from Untold Arsenal are rarely if ever picked up by a wider audience?
    Try the 30 word approach, and see if that will generate more publicity. The odd misleading headline which could be interpreted in a number of ways may lure more to actually read on. 😁 I may not necessarily agree with all you produce but thanks for presenting pieces to get me thinking.
    Keep up the good work .
    Herbert Chapman’s Ghost .

  • Kenward Garg

    Once again, Mr Atwood, you do football journalism proud. Keep going…

  • Chris

    Guys what is you problem with someone giving his opinion – based on fact ? Does a fact based opinion mean the person is bashing ?

    Can’t you take a step back and look at the larger picture ? That these ‘outlets’ are just recycling rumours as they would for any starlet or royal. And recycling without even analysing it : does it make sense, can it be true, believable, provable ?

    Or can you link us a piece that shows the writer has really researched his subject and actually went out from behind his/her screen to actually go ask people face to face (what one calls an interview….) ?

    Or is cut and paste now considered journalism ?

  • Nitram

    CannonSpike

    “Sour grapes?

    You guys need to get over the fact that they’re succeeding and people subscribe and like their product.”

    How is it ‘sour grapes’ just pointing out errors, inaccuracies and just good old fashioned lies ?

    Taking just one piece of their fiction, and this is just one I could be bothered to dig deeper into, because believe you me, if you want to say something, and then more importantly, substantiate what you are saying with statistics, data, and facts, it takes a lot of work, I mean a lot of work.

    The problem is must people are not prepared to put in this work, either through laziness or more often, I believe, because they don’t actually care, or worse, even want the truth.

    All they want to do is say: “Wenger was shite for the last 10 years” and for people like you to not even question it, but worse, to accuse people that do of ‘sour grapes’.

    This is the statement I am referring to:

    “Ornstein……..And so it went on until all pretence of giving us an alternative vision of Arsenal was abandoned and The Athletic provided the headline coup de grace… “A decade of decline, but how far can Arsenal fall?””

    A DECADE OF DECLINE ?

    A statement that was obviously seized upon by a poster named Neil Fitt who posted the following in an article headlined: KICKING ARTETA BEFORE HE’S EVEN STARTED https://untold-arsenal.com/archives/78633

    “Not so Arsene was undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the world, he in the last years of his reign had lost his edge tactically.”

    Neither Ornstein or Neil Fitt provide any supporting evidence for such a statement, yet just state it as fact.

    I contended it was anything but fact and said as much (repeated bellow) in that article, BUT with supporting evidence:

    Neil Fitt

    “he (Wenger)in the last years of his reign had lost his edge tactically.

    Depends what you mean by the last YEARS doesn’t it?

    So what do you mean? The last 10 years? The last 5 years? The last 2 years? the last year?

    Lets have a look at the last 10 years shall we, 10 that we can conveniently split in half, 2008-2009 to 20012-2013 and 10013-2014 to 2017-2018

    2008/09 to 2012/13

    League finishes: 4th, 3rd, 4th, 3rd, 4th.

    Trophies: Nil

    Over this period Wengers nett spend was a PROFIT of £7.2 Million per season.

    Compared to these annual Nett spends:

    Man City: £48 Million.
    Chelsea: £44 Million.
    Man Utd: £14 Million.

    So given Wenger was working on bellow a zero Nett spend against those enormous figures, hanging on in there in the PL was a pretty good effort if you ask me.

    So surely you cant be talking about those years.
    2013/14 to 2017/18

    League finishes: 4th, 3rd 2nd, 5th, 6th.

    Trophies: 3 FA Cups

    Over this period Wengers Nett spend was £37 Million per season.

    Compared to these annual Nett spends:

    Man City: £77 Million.
    Chelsea: £39 Million.
    Man Utd: £87 Million.

    So even though Wengers Nett spend had increased Cities had almost doubled and Uniteds had more than quadrupled. Chelseas were spending about what they always were.

    Against that we have to take in to account that despite Wengers big increase in spending he was still playing catch up were as the likes of chelsea already had large value assets (as did City and United) to trade against their spend so their Nett spend should of been at least kept in check to a degree where as Arsenal, without high value assets to trade in were always going to have a high Nett spend in order to at least try to catch up.

    So in conclusion, although still missing out on a Premier League trophy we did win 3 FA Cups and maintained an almost identical Nett PL finish.

    So are you saying against that kind of opposition, those finishes and 3 FA Cups are indicative of a man who’s lost it tactically? If so I beg to differ.

    So in reality when you are talking about Wenger losing his tactical edge in the “last years of his reign” you can only be talking about the last 2 at most because I fail to see how under any circumstances anything Wenger did up to and including 2016/2017 can be called a failure, or of been done without have maintained his tactical edge.

    Ok I know his last season was very disappointing, and at a push you could say 5th and an FA Cup in 2016/17 was disappointing (but oh what would Spurs give for a season with a trophy, even a not a trophy trophy), but given everything the grace Wenger was given at the end was disgraceful.

    So you tell me what “later YEARS” are you are talking about?

    2015/16 when we finished PL runners up?

    or

    2016/17 when we finished 5th (by 1 point) and won an FA Cup ?

    or

    2017/18 ?

    Because for the life of me apart from his final season I fail to see how the accusation of
    losing it tactically stacks up one little bit.

    —————–

    Neil had the opportunity in a very long thread to clarify what he meant but chose not to.

    I leave you to ponder as to why.

    If I asked Ornstein to justify his statement do you think he would respond?

    I doubt it, as given the statistics I produced substantiating the claim that Arsenal have been through ““A decade of decline” is simply not possible.

    Surely, questioning such unsubstantiated claims is what we should all be doing, not simply calling it ‘sour grapes’ ?

    Unless of course you WANT to believe it?

  • James

    I’m not sure if you live in some sort of fantasy world where Arsenal are beyond criticism. We, as a club, are in the worst position we’ve been in for many, many years. Do you not think that it is important to highlight this and get people talking about why it might be happening? Every fan of every club thinks that the media are bias against them. While I do agree that there does seem to be lots of Arsenal bashing in the mainstream media that is because I notice it because it’s about Arsenal (If it was about West Ham I wouldn’t care and wouldn’t read it) and we were, before the Man United game, only 4 points off the relegation places. Does there not need to be criticism of that?

  • Mikey

    @ Nitram

    Stop using facts. You know the naysayers don’t like it. Facts don’t fit their opinions…………

  • Nitram

    Mikey

    Will not, so there !!

    Seriously, I prefer to say ‘it doesn’t fit their agendas’

    Either way, you are correct, ‘they’ don’t like it.

    Just to clarify. I never say, or at least very rarely say, ‘proof’, I usually say it’s ‘evidence’, which is different.

    I think all I, you, we or Untold Arsenal are really asking for is for journalist, pundits, or posters, to do likewise, rather than endless unsubstantiated soundbites.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Off topic but Arsenal Women resume their league campaign this afternoon against Birmingham. Kickoff at Borehamwoodis 14:00.

    If Miedema scores she sets a new WSL record for goals in consecutive games. Quite likely I would have thought!

  • Les Williams

    I like the quote:

    Or as the New Statesman said, the promise was not to provide “the familiar mixture of rumours, myth-making, puffery and sporadic insight, only at far greater expense.”

    This is true of all the main stream news magazines… Why bother with the truth and facts when innuendo and lies work if repeated enough sadly

  • James, indeed there should be, and it may be that you have missed some of our past analyses of this, in terms of the way the media treats different clubs in different ways, in terms of the way the media defines the issues and refuses to allow or encourage debate which sits outside those lines, the curious figures that emerge from our analyses of refereeing decision making and the media’s refusal to discuss that, the fact that unlike most European countries, a highly secretive organisation which is not open to public scrutiny runs refereeing and has a major influence over what can and can’t be debated in the media…

    Put all this in the mix and we have a very strange situation – unique within European football I think. And what happens in this weird situation is that you, and many like you, suggest we are living in a fantasy world in which Arsenal are beyond criticism. Yet we have been highly critical of the ownership of Arsenal – indeed in our historic analyses we’ve probably been the most critical of anyone, and we’ve been critical of many Arsenal fans, and fan groups. As such I would say we are probably the most critical of commentators.

    And yet we can be accused of not being critical at all. That to me is rather odd, and I’ll try and devise an more fulsome article upon this for publication shortly.

  • Rosicky@Arsenal

    Nitram great post as always. The twitteeratis and blogger’s like Geoff, Pedro Merson etc who thought Arteta will discard Ozil and Xhaka ,have no place to hide now after Arteta had clearly expressed his intentions that both are in his plans for the rebuild after UE has damaged the team.
    It also shows the level of footballing brain these idiots at AFTV Legroan Nevile Geof Pedro Merson have in their heads.

    And the UNTOLDERS let me repeat

    ARSENE WENGER HAS BEEN VINDICATED AGAIN.

  • Gord

    OT: Arsenal Women

    Goal 1 – Kim Little (Captain), assist to Miedema.

    Goal 2 – Nobbs, from Williamson.

    COYWG! Miedema, get a goal of 3 please.

    About half time (I think).

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Half time at Borehamwood and we are two nil to the good. Kim Little on 10 minutes from a Miedema headed ball across the goal following a corner and Jordan Nobbs on 24 minutes with a first time volleyed lob shot following a long through ball. Miedema nearly demolished the goal when a thundering shot came back off the crossbar. So far so good!

  • Gord

    Thanks Andrew.

  • Nitram

    James

    It’s not about not being able to criticise Arsenal, it’s about critisism without foundation or any basis in fact.

    From you we have:

    “I’m not sure if you live in some sort of fantasy world where Arsenal are beyond criticism. We, as a club, are in the worst position we’ve been in for many, many years.”#

    From Ornstein we have:

    “And so it went on until all pretence of giving us an alternative vision of Arsenal was abandoned and The Athletic provided the headline coup de grace… “A decade of decline, but how far can Arsenal fall?””

    Given all my statistics above how is that in any way based in fact?

    Where as you say:

    “We, as a club, are in the worst position we’ve been in for many, many years.”

    Which is a pretty fair assessment of the situation we are in.

    That’s because what you say has a basis in fact. What Ornstein says does not.

    Also things are often said that are based in facts but utterly devoid of context, such as Amy Lawrence talking about the amount of 10+ goal scorers without any context, or people citing Arsenal’s leaky defence without context.

    Yes our defence is leaky, but by highlighting that, the inference, intended or not, is that Arsenals defence is worse than most, especially our direct rivals, which it is not as Spurs GA is identical and Chelseas only 1 better.

    The lack of context is quite obviously deliberate, and quite obviously done to allow critisism to carry weight when it does not.

    Or mind reading:

    “We were told, “fans are seemingly unified in the view that after 18 months as head coach, Emery should be sacked.” !

    Some thought that, others didn’t, but to infer a ‘unified view’ without actually knowing what 99% of people think is utterly ridiculous.

    There is a big difference between valid critisism and tabloid shit stirring and personally I see nothing wrong with calling out the bullshit for what it is, in fact I think it is crucial.

  • Maasterstroke

    Some recent (the last five) Arsenal related headlines from The Athletic:
    ‘Arsenal must back Arteta to rebuild, George Graham-style’
    ‘Disciplined and terrier-like in midfield, Torreira has looked reborn under Arteta’
    ‘A celebration of Thierry Henry and his trademark finish’
    ‘Arteta has rejuvenated Ozil and Arsenal already look more organised than they have in years’
    ‘The clue was in the warm-up: how Arteta and his front five are making Arsenal fun again’

  • Chris

    @Nitram,

    I would not have said it any better.

    A decade of decline that brought us 3 FA cups, 7 CL qualifications, 2 or 3 Community Shields…

    Interesting measuring stick, the more so when I compare it to the competition.

    But then, to paraphrase Ms Lawrence : Arsenal are a team that only won the FA cup thrice in the past decade….

  • Gord

    Drat, no goal for Miedema. Good win Gunners!

  • The index that The Athletic provides me with when I search for Arsenal articles is different from that for the last five that you have reported, but even if I accept that this list was the last five, and if I accept that the list of the last five was of relevance and was important, then what turns up before is rather different

    1: Suarez, Higuain, Ba, Sahin, Dudek … the inside story of the Arsenal signings that never happened

    2: Wenger’s worrying, Mourinho’s intervention or a match getting in the way – some players were already on the website when a deal collapsed…

    3: Even Burnley have more possession in the final third than Arsenal. It’s not just the defence Arteta needs to fix

    4: Arsenal have become uninspiring going forward and Ozil could be key to changing that…

    5: How do you revive a club at Christmas? Give it some presence. Tips for Ancelotti and Arteta from those who did it

    And what you have done is exactly my point about the way football journalism works – by saying things like “this is the last five” without considering (or maybe by hiding) what the previous five were about, while all the time suggesting without explaining why the “last five” is of any particular importance, given that the situation is of course fluid.

    What’s more it does not reflect the issue I was trying to write about, but rather uses a different issue to then try to disprove my point.
    Anyway “Maasterstroke” as I see you have now become I feel I have explained to you, and indeed anyone who finds your approach interesting, why I disagree with you, so I think we should leave it there. You disagree with me, I’ve given you loads of space on this site to express your views and continued to explain why I disagree not just with your points but also your method of analysing, so I think that is time to stop.

  • Masterstroke

    They’re definitely the last five articles, but not actually in the order of publication. I’m sure it’s not important. I’ve only had my subscription for a few weeks, so have not read all articles published. These ones are all very positive, but for balance I suppose some others will not be.
    I doubt that I will re-new my Athletic subscription when it expires as I will have to pay full price.

  • blacksheep

    I think the point is that the athletic – like all other sports writing packages – is after clicks and subscriptions. It may be better written than many others but it still needs the journalistic turn of phrase and cavalier relationship to facts that the tabloids deploy. I don’t need david Ornteain or anyone else to tell me whom Arsenal might buy or sell, I need him to tell me who me HAVE bought (or sold). In other words I look to the BBC to report what HAS happened not to prophesies on what MIGHT.

    It is a bit like political commentary at the moment: none of them – however well educated or experienced – have a clue what would happen in the election, with Brexit, with Iran etc, or Trump. They all speculated wildly and that’s something I can do without paying for someone else’s opinion.

    So, here’s an idea:

    DON’T BUY NEWSPAPERS or subscribe to ONLINE MAGAZINES or listen to PUNDITS

    Look at the facts, watch the football, and make up your own minds.

    P.s Tony, 30 words is NOT an article. Its barely a paragraph!

  • Nitram

    blacsheep

    The point is it’s not about how these bloggettes influence you, as you obviously treat them with the contempt they deserve. I do the same.

    No, it’s not about people like us it’s about the people that do take it serious.

    How many times I’ve had someone say to me ‘have you seen that numpty we are looking at buying’ or ‘did you see we’re in for so and so’, based on the last paper they read or talk show they tuned in to, or blogg they read.

    Unbelievably people do take it serious and even more unfortunately, allow their opinions to be shaped by what they read and hear.

    It’s all very well saying don’t read it but people do, and worse still believe it.