Why, as Arsenal fans, are we constantly criticising the media?

By Christophe Jost and Tony Attwood

A lot of writing and broadcasting about football obviously consists of personal opinion.  When such commentary is done well it tends to be backed up by examples, comparisons and facts.  When it is done poorly one of these three elements – the examples, the comparisons and the facts – is missing.  However when two or indeed all three of these elements are missing, then it becomes tempting to feel that the article or commentary is written in order to mislead or confuse.

Of course in all this there is nothing wrong with giving opinions, providing that where there are no facts to back up the commentary, the opinion giver has the decency to admit this with the “of course this is just my opinion” comment.

Where the opinion is accompanied either by untrue or misleading statements – then we may conclude that the article is being written in order to mislead.   And where this happens and the statement is given by a person held in some esteem by many listeners, viewers or readers, this really is worth calling out.

One of us (Tony) highlighted such an occasion some years back wherein the word “only” was used by an esteemed journalist to give the impression that Arsenal were doing badly (the infamous “only two goalscorers have reached double figures” comment) when in fact Arsenal were in a very small group of clubs that had got two players scoring in double figures by that stage of the season.

When setting the record straight in such a situation there is also nothing wrong, in our minds, it criticising the football media, especially where we feel that the media is, through its heavy emphasis on specific issues, deliberately misleading readers.

But above all, this type of reviewing of the media, is just the continuance of a long tradition.  Thus when The Athletic appeared we felt it was an opportunity for a publisher to step aside from the commonplace practices of knocking certain players and clubs while being disinterested in the facts, and instead step forward with a new type of football journalism.  However we found the magazine disappointing, being relatively up-market, but still fixed in the same opinion based groove as elsewhere.

Thus we found the magazine to be just the same as other publications, but with better packaging.

Clearly the piece we published on this topic was the opinion of the writer, with examples within the text to back up his opinion.  And yet the piece brought forth some criticism – not criticism that the article contained false reporting, but rather with the implication that somehow it should not have been written.

Behind this interest that we both have in the media, is the awareness that while, in a newspaper such as the Guardian, (which as it happens, both of us feel contains articles that are well researched and written by journalists who are good at uncovering facts) much is insightful, surprisingly little has been done to bring the football section up to the standard of the research and analysis of the rest of the paper.    So we point this out, and we wonder why.

And yes we often mention Ms Lawrence’s infamous “only” article which said Arsenal only had three players who had scored in double figures, because it was so out of place in the Guardian.  The paper would never suggest that Man United had only won the PL 13 times?   Or that the new Tottenham Stadium only has 62,303 seats?  Or that Brazil has only won 5 World Cups?

Or that Arsenal (yep…) have only won the PL 3 times and only won the FA Cup 13 times.

The point here is that any journalist really interested in football and wanting to get a story out has plenty of subjects at her or his disposal. And yet they seem to be consistently ignore.

For example which media outlet in the UK has reported on the fact that the PL was found ‘off-side’ in it’s handling of VAR?    For it is now a known fact that the Premier League is NOT respecting world football rules in this regard. Have you seen a report on this in the Athletic?  Or indeed any other outlet?   How is this deviation possible or even ‘legal’ in terms of IFAB/FIFA?

And then there is the fact that Liverpool and Leicester have pretty much the same number of yellow cards per game as last year, yet Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, and Manchester United (to take just these four) are on track to augment that number by at least 50%?

Or how come Southampton have suddenly far fewer cards (71 last season, 29 so far!!!)?   Tottenham (at the moment of writing) were just one card away from the total number of cards they got in the whole of the 17/18 season. (source : www.premierleague.com)

Of course there are many other topics we could cover such as why a ref was fired from PGMOL for a private post he made, while the Prime Minister can publicly use far worse language with impunity?  And why PGMOL has officially stated that referees not from northern England need to be re-trained? Why in the world has no one reacted to such a shocking statement?

Our point is not to answer these questions here, but to use them to try and clarify what we are doing: we are simply trying to highlight issues that seem not to be highlighted elsewhere and which we find important.

Now what really bemuses us is not that such raising of issues is met with counter-arguments, pointing out a factual error perhaps or some false logic.  That is to be expected.   Rather what surprises us is that our commentaries can be met by comments to the effect that we should not be these topics at all.  That somehow we rather than arguing a valid case we are pursuing a vendetta or being unreasonable.

Our view on the other hand is that these points are important, and that very very few other outlets are making these points.  So they need to be written, and hopefully discussed.

Are we “obsessed” by the media?  Our view is not.  Rather, we find it a valid topic of debate in itself, and we stay with the topic because few other people are pointing out that the media in the UK is omitting coverage of key issues, or giving misleading information when they do tackle these points.  And we just wonder why.  Is it by chance?  Or is someone telling them to lay off certain issues?  Or is there some other motive?

In short, why are the strange fouls and yellow cards figures in the PL not mainstream news?  Why is the lack of London referees not mentioned, especially as London clubs overall have very different statistics in this regard from the rest of the league?

Indeed why is the shortage of referees not mentioned?  Why is the refusal of referees to give interviews not discussed?  Why is Uefa’s announcement that match fixing is out of control not debated?  Why does the level of injuries and deaths, and the lack of human rights associated with the building of world cup stadia get so few mentions?  Why was the use of VAR in the Premier League delayed by a season, and is now different from its use in most of the rest of Europe?

In short, in the competitive industry that football journalism is, why is so much of the media following the same well trodden path, day after day after day?

Indeed what we find strange is that when we highlight the unity of the media in terms of the way it selects certain football topics for debate while consistently ignoring others, some readers then criticise us for raising these issues.

What can possibly be amiss in pointing out that the media avoids key topics, and in other areas always takes the same attitude?

30 Replies to “Why, as Arsenal fans, are we constantly criticising the media?”

  1. An excellent read. Why doesn’t Untold, using its Twitter account, try to raise some of these issues directly with the Journalists themselves?

  2. On the article, I feel I need to make a few comments though
    1. Ms Lawrence article stated that only “2” (not 3) arsenal players had hit double figures. I believe as at the time of writing her article indeed only man city had 3 players in double figures.
    2. But as had been said countless times by a fellow commenter, had article was based on a statement by arsene Wenger, complaining that we weren’t scoring enough. She agreed with his assessment and tried to corroborate her thinking with the fact that the club could do with more scorers.
    3. In every article written (on untold or anywhere else) it is important to consider context. Isolating statements and generalising based on that many times would not be doing the piece justice. This, for me, should be a general rule. Read a good portion of the article, then draw your conclusion. Although in my opinion, it’s good practice when writing, to place your “thesis statement” early enough, preferably in the first paragraph, so the point is not lost on the reader.

  3. Great article.

    I think ‘Paranoid’ is the default accusation levelled at us here on untold.

    If that is indeed the case then I wish there were a few more Paranoids out there, asking similar questions to Untold, then we might just get to the bottom of why the PGMOL is such a secretive, Northern based institution, without any accountability, and more to the point why the media seems so content with this state of affairs.

  4. Why referees and the media behave in the way they do is very straightforward, in my opinion (an opinion based on the evidence with which I’ve been presented or researched myself). They have a specific agenda.

    Why some people, particularly our own “supporters”, think it is unreasonable to highlight those concerns without presenting a counter argument and/or any evidence to support their point of view is a complete mystery. The only reason I can think of is that they too have a vested interest, i.e they are not really Arsenal supporters. Perhaps they are even representatives of the media, PGMOL or Premier League masquerading as people who have no vested interest.

    Of course, there is the possibility that some people are merely a couple of full backs short of a defence and just don’t see it………….in which case there’s a glowing career in football punditry awaiting them.

  5. Common football reporters want to keep their part of the huge money that will contnue to flow if they don’t answer to questions about the issues you try to address.
    Football needs people like you who are not afraid to point any obvious concerns.
    People that criticize your work must be one of these common football journalists with bad feelings!

  6. Great piece Gentlemen.
    Paranoia is only present when the presumed antagonist is demonstrably unreal, or false.
    If I might make one observation, the inferred antagonist in this piece being ‘The Athletic’, should you not have included quotes from them ,or their representatives to demonstrate their ire at your meddlesome interfence of this week?
    I’m not going to subscribe, based on your previous article, so I can’t go there to find out if your demons are real or unreal.

  7. @frOOm,

    I’d stay away of accusing football reporters from being corrupt is the sense of them getting paid by some party interested in their reporting.
    However, I have no problem believing that to some extent, none want to stop the gravy train, that is losing priviledged access to stadia, having all these selfies with football stars after having asked them from the umpteenth time the same meanlignless question or for others just on the web losing advertising revenue, or their ‘standing’ as some kind of low level self-labeled ‘star’ only among the clique loving to bash Arsenal.
    Everyone knows that once the rottakes hold, it is very hard to get rid of it. And without the club’s active intervention, I do not believe that this can change.

  8. Mikey

    “Why some people, particularly our own “supporters”, think it is unreasonable to highlight those concerns without presenting a counter argument and/or any evidence to support their point of view is a complete mystery.”

    I think that any Arsenal supporters denial of anything being wrong with PGMOL and the way we are refereed, to the way we are treated in the media, could be a residue of the ‘Wenger out’ period.

    I think that those that felt Wenger had passed his sell by date and considered him as a serial failure, saw our highlighting of these issues merely as an excuse for what they saw as Wengers failings.

    For them to start suddenly agreeing with the premise of us being symptomatically screwed by all on sundry would be, in a small way at least, a concession to the notion that perhaps our trials and tribulations were not all down to Wenger after all.

    I’m not saying that that IS what’s behind this ‘heads in the sand’ attitude that some of our supporters seem to take, but it’s a thought.

  9. @Nitram,

    considering that most people are reluctant or incapable of admiting they were wrong or did someone wrong, I’d say you probably a valid point here. And as habits die hard, Unai Emery was thrown into this toxic bath from day one and there was no way he could escape the known conclusion…

  10. Chris

    “Unai Emery was thrown into this toxic bath from day one”

    Indeed he was.

    I believe, as tends to happen, he was given a little latitude at first, and given his impressive initial results, if not performances, perhaps that was inevitable. But you always sensed the vultures were circling.

    Whilst I was not blind and could see all was not well with how we were playing, I was personally prepared to cut him some lack and give him more time, especially given the extra handicap of a particularly lopsided dose of refereeing.

    His demise was inevitable.

    As I have said previously, given what I have seen of Arteta so far, it seems my instinct to stick with Emery would of been wrong, and I’ am perfectly happy to admit that.

    My problem is, if it can be put that way, I am by nature a very loyal person, but of course loyalty can be misplaced.

    Now given the nature of the media, and on their coat tails far too many of our fans, it surely wont take much for them to turn on Arteta.

    Lets hope he, and Arsenal, give them no reason to.

  11. @ Deb

    Your belief is not only wrong but also delusional. I rather think you are one of those people who deny the obvious to conform to their ‘beliefs’. Whilst it is open debate that there is a conspiratorial agenda to demean and diminish the club, there are clear evidence that most of the Pundits have an agenda and clear narrative that they maliciously pursue. If you can’t see that, then you either an enabler or implicitly subscribe to their agenda. Pointing out Paul Merson as a case of pundit’s objectivity is just ridiculous, the man is an absolute moron.

  12. King 2 I am not sure that it matters whether Merson is a moron or not, the fact is that he does not rely on evidence for most of his assertions.

  13. @Chris

    Like you I don’t think they’re corrupt, I think they don’t want to try to change things, they’re happy with their situation.

    I have read an interesting article on ESPN about the “luck” factor and how it impacts the results in the Premier League. Bad luck, in this reading, means in fact refering errors. Without these Arsenal would be 5th with 9 points more: a huge difference… The bad side is they don’t ask why!

    Link to this article:

  14. I also ( like Deb) think that we generate our own press. Play well & they’re with us all the way, but like United & Spurs this season a few bad matches and you’ll lose them and it’s tough to get them on board again. The likes of Ornstein & Amy are rare examples of faithful all weather Gooners and I cherish their goodwill when the pressure might otherwise be on to completely wipe us out.

  15. @frOOm,

    wow GREAT link, thanks a lot. I have no issue with luck and I know full well – I’ve coached – that sometimes you hit a bad run.

    However, I’ve become suspicious, because some things don’t add up, at least to me. Like Spurs having as many yellows minus one as the whole of last season, like us having 3 referees who are regularly in charge, because, in a ‘regular’ situation, you get the same ref twice… if you get the same ref only twice, and this applis to the whole league, the word ‘luck’ can be used.

    When some teams get the same ref many times, the ‘luck’ factor starts to be affected by a bias factor, as, even if they are not corrupt, referees are not robots and have their preferences, players they don’t like, players they admire, cities they live in, kids who like this or that team, etc etc. They do not live on Mars and just come over for a game like a US jury having to live ‘off’ daily life while the trial is going on so that they are not influenced.

    Thanks again for this link

  16. Hitting the post 3 times in a match.

    Constantly coming across a keeper having a ‘Worldy’.

    having your entire 1st choice injured at the same time.

    That could all be classed as bad luck.

    Having referees book your players at a rate far in excess of the norm. (Except of course in our case because apparently our fouls are actually worse and more cynical than everyone else’s, aint that right Deb? Honestly is she for real?)

    Being denied clear and obvious penalties on a regular basis.

    Conceding soft penalties on a regular basis.

    VAR looking at and turning over decisions that went initially in your favour that were not clear and obvious errors.

    VAR not even looking at decisions that should plainly of been given in your favour.

    None of that is ‘luck’, that is cheating, plain and simple.

  17. @Nitram,

    I agree on all this, but, just pause for a minute. Basically, some professor at a University (alas London…) who is supposed to be ‘non-biased’ has taken a look at the first part of the season and says that there is an outlyer…so this is something important. Last year they came up with United being very very lucky….again an outlyer.

    So something is off, and others have analysed the ‘off’ and come up with 9 points more and 5 ranks better.. before we get all excited, there needs to be a more in-depth look at things. But our suspicion is so far confirmed. Something is not ‘normal’. And we are not the only ones saying it.

    It’s kind of like the paranoïd saying : someone is trying to kill me and nobody believes it and now the police is saying : oh look at that, you were shot at.

  18. Luck? I think I know what paper and professor you are talking about now. He may be at London now, he wasn’t when this ESPN thing started.

    A large part of the analysis of football (aka soccer) you find in papers at arXiv is that luck plays a much larger fraction of the game than other sports (basketball, cricket, gridiron, …).

    I think most people who think it unsporting, for a manager to instruct his/her players to injure opponents (although it did happen in Pele’s days).

    Let’s say no players ever got injured, which team will likely win the league? I would say the chances of the team winning the league being the one with the most resources is quite likely. Doesn’t have to be money, but often is.

    So what happens when PGMO _employees_ allow one team to “kick” their opponents? The chances of a player on the team being kicked, getting injured increases. Which benefits the team doing the kicking. Who also benefits? Potentially all of the teams that will play the team being kicked in the future. Realistically those “downstream” teams that will have games within the time frame of being injured.

    But also realistically, if a team sets out to kick their opponents in a game; there is also a chance that their players will become injured. Which is again a benefit to those teams that play the kicking team in the future.

    The players likely to become injured on the team being kicked are likely to be skilled players. The players likely to become injured on the kicking team, are probably the youthful, aggressive ones. A player like Joey Barton is probably less likely to get hurt in kicking an opponent, than a player who doesn’t have years of experience at kicking opponents.

    Is this luck? Luck plays a part in who gets injured and for how long. But this is all premeditated on the part of the EPL, The (sweet) FA and PGMO. They are at a minimum, fostering an environment which results in the injury of players.

    One thing missing from the ESPN/London university scheme, is the fact that some players require treatment as a result of being kicked (or otherwise hurt) in a game, and hence may be off the field when their opponents score.

  19. Chris

    I think it is very difficult for anyone (except Dr Deb of course) to deny something is very screwy with how the PGMOL is organised, how referees apply the laws of the game compared to the rest or Europe, and how VAR is applied, again compared to the rest of Europe, let alone how differently Referees and VAR apply the laws/rules unevenly across the Premier League.

    Denial of these variants is tantamount to denying that water is wet.

    Now when and to whom these variants are applied, to either their benefit or detriment, is open to debate. All you can do is supply statistics, and or evidence.

    As you have rightly pointed out Spurs are being treated much more harshly with cards than recent seasons.

    We too are being harshly treated.

    As to why is the difficult question.

    As other London Clubs seem to be getting a rough ride also, could it just be a bias against London Clubs?

    Given the Northern bias within the Referees this does seem, I say seem, to give this theory at least some credibility.

    But then why are Southampton getting favoured? It seems it is not a North/South thing at least.

    I couldn’t agree more about the need for a more in depth look at what’s occurring, but as I know to my cost it is very time consuming and even when thoroughly in depth research is carried out and published on here, such as Vinces hard work that I have supplied the link for again, the deniers explain it away with glib comments such as it’s the ‘QUALITY’ of your fouls as if Arsenal have been fouling worse than everyone else for 10 years.

    What I believe Vinces research shows is that since Riley took over at the head of the PGMOL it is undeniable that we get harshly treated regarding cards and Penalties. Yes other teams have dodgy periods, I remember Chelsea had a run of a couple of months when things didn’t go their way in the Autumn of 2015, and didn’t we know it! Mourinho ended up getting fined for his remarks about referees. Spurs this year. I don’t doubt most clubs could point at specific moments in time when the World seemed against them. But as research shows, when looked at over along period it is Arsenal that consistently are on the wrong end of so many card and penalty decisions.

    Again, to deny this by simply accusing Arsenal of committing worse or more cynical fouls than everyone else for an entire decade, as Deb has done, is an absolutely unsustainable explanation.



  20. @Nitram,

    Why Southmapton is the outlyer may be due to their new german coach (how did his previous teams in Germany play…). I have no idea if they really play a less ‘brutal’ game, and I don’t know if their stats were systematically high in the past years. Need to look it up. Guess I need to find people from other clubs who have some objectivity and interest in understanding the facts.

    I’m curious to understand, so am starting to look at these trends much more seriously. Need to feed a database and start datamining…

  21. Chris

    Good luck with all that.

    All the stats will be out there somewhere, but to delve as deep as is needed to get to what’s behind these ‘outlyers’ or ‘anomalies’ is going to be very difficult.

    Take Dr Debs theory that the reason behind Arsenals high ratio of cards is that the ‘QUALITY’ of Arsenals fouling is worse than others. Now as improbable as that may seem to you and me, disproving it, or indeed proving it, is much much harder than just saying it.

    Yes, at any one moment in time Arsenal may of had a ‘poor’ tackler, or ‘cynical’ tackler, but to suggest we’ve had more of them than Spurs, Chelsea, Man Utd, Man City and even the likes of Stoke, not just in one season but over a period of almost a decade, is stretching a theory beyond breaking point in my opinion.

    But as I say proving that is almost impossible, not least because as much as the stats are objective, the nature of a tackle is ‘subjective’.

    All you can do is take an overview of the probability of that statement being true, and given the type of player and the nature of football Arsenal have been playing for the last 10 to 15 years that statement can only been seen as highly improbable.

    But just try proving it.

  22. Chris.

    Much of the stuff I’ve worked at, is in Perl. And I’ve rolled the structure as I needed it for every case. But in general, nearly everything I’ve done involves a hashref at the highest level. If you grok Perl, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to write out the data into some formal database.

    But it would be really nice if there was some place we could get the data from, instead of doing things like scraping HTML or manual cut and paste.

  23. @Gord,

    Sure would be simpler, but it does not seem possible. I’m going to be checking out what the Bundesliga offers in terms of stats to see if they are more transparent. Maybe in the end I’ll try to crowdsource the effort… ;=)

    I have no idea of Perl, but if I have any dataset with some kind of separator, and a known structure, I’ll be ok with it.

  24. @Nitram,

    I’m not at all into ‘proving’ a specific issue. I’m more into showing a tendencies from looking at the date from a global perspective. Maybe nothing will show but incompetence or random. Maybe not. But the fact referees hail from the North and the basic rule of 1 ref 2 games per team does not apply is just a funny thing. I did run this by friends in the US who have een in the refereeing business, and all of them went : you say what ?! Which confirms my instincts this is not just me being paranoïd.

  25. Chris.

    I never tried the [code] HTML tag here, so let’s see what happens. The “hash” (aka octothorpe) is a comment delimiter. A semicolon ‘ends’ an instruction.

    my $h = { [
    date => {
    year => '2020',
    month => '1',
    day => '9',
    # More hash components of interest, not date
    # More hashes
    ], # End of array of hashes

  26. I might have been reading too fast, but I did read the entire transcript note at Arsenal.com today. As near as I remember, Arteta didn’t confirm any players coming or going.

    And then we see in Express

    Mikel Arteta confirms three exits on cards as Arsenal boss opens up …


  27. @ Tony

    “the fact is that he does not rely on evidence for most of his assertions”

    Concise definition of a moron!

  28. super article !
    Guardian are you listening?
    Be factual! your footy journalism doesnt deserve that name
    just a bunch of pencil-dandies who care more for a nice written quasi witty article than facts

  29. I watch a fair bit of American football on the television and it is striking how the games are reported by their pundits as opposed to the Premier League commentators.

    The commentators almost always stress the positive as a way to report an incident. For example, if a defensive player gets by the offensive line and tackles the quarterback, the commentator doesn’t describe the play as ‘another example of the shambolic technique of the offensive lineman’ but rather highlights the ‘outstanding work of the defensive end’. The highlight will focus on his technique and of course the hit on the quarterback. To put it into context, instead of shellacking our defenders and how this or that midfielder didn’t track back, an NFL commentator would comment on the quality of the pass, the great angle of the run and the great first touch of the attacker.

    Quite aside from how it is reported, I feel that when Arsenal supporters focus all of their attention on our deficiencies, that this smacks of supreme egotism. Not everything needs to be framed in the context of how Arsenal play. Sometimes it is right and just to give accolades to the other team. After all, sometimes we are forced into playing poorly by superior opponents.

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